The annual Amarnath Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir has been cancelled for the second consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha announced on June 21.
"Shri Amarnathji Yatra cancelled in wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Decision was taken after threadbare discussion with Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board members. Yatra to be symbolic only. However, all the traditional religious rituals shall be performed at the Holy Cave Shrine as per past practice," the LG's Office said.
The rituals to be held at the Amarnath shrine cave in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district will, like last year, be broadcasted live in the morning and the evening for the devout, said Nitishwar Kumar, the chief executive officer of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.
Kumar said that both morning telecast of aarti at 6 am and evening aarti at 5 pm, each for 30 minutes, is to be live-streamed on Shri Amarnath ji Shrine board official website and the app specifically dedicated for the devotees.
“It's important to save people's lives. So, it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year's pilgrimage in the larger public interest. Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board is aware of and respect the sentiments of millions of devotees, and to keep the sentiments alive, the Board shall continue the live telecast of morning and evening Aarti from the Holy Cave shrine," said LG Sinha, who is also the chairman of shrine board.
Singh also stressed upon the need to follow Covid protocol on the significant and pious days like Pratham Pooja, Samapan Pooja. He further stressed that saints visiting the shrine cave to perform aarti as per “Shastra” would follow Covid appropriate behavior.
The 56-day pilgrimage to the 3,880-metre-high shrine was scheduled to start from the twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal from June 28 and culminate on August 28.
READ: COVID-19: J&K hamlet first village in India to achieve 100% vaccination of its adult population
The registration for the yatra, which started on April 1, was put on hold from April 22 due to the raging second wave of COVID-19.
The yatra was cancelled last year as well due to the pandemic and rituals were broadcasted live from the shrine cave.
In 2019, it was curtailed mid-way ahead of the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status granted under Article 370.
The officials discussed different options including curtailed yatra, but in the end a unanimous decision was taken to prevent the mass assembly of pilgrims.
While the decision to hold or cancel the yatra is taken by an advisory committee in the Union Territory of J&K, chaired by the Lieutenant Governor, the Union government can also recommend it. The final call, however, is taken by the committee along with members of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), responsible for planning and execution of the annual pilgrimage.
Also, read: Data proves calling Haridwar Kumbh COVID-19 superspreader unfair: Mela security incharge
In March-April, the Kumbh Mela of Uttarakhand, which is attended by people from different parts of the country in large numbers, drew flak from various quarters as the number of COVID-19 cases rose at a rapid pace during the days coinciding with the event.
The violation of COVID-19 protocols at the gathering had attracted attention from across the world. However, the state authorities including the chief minister tried to downplay the risks.
In April, however, the Uttarakhand government decided to call off the Char Dham Yatra to the four famous Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and the Yamunotri in view of the COVID-19 situation. The pilgrimage was scheduled to begin on May 14.