Srinagar: As the number of COVID-19 cases in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) continue to surge, the authorities have finally called-off this year’s Amarnath Yatra, terming it as a preventive measure against the pandemic, official sources said.
The decision comes weeks after the UT administration, along with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), had proposed to carry out the annual Hindu pilgrimage in a staggered manner. The plan was, however, widely criticised as the number of COVID-19 cases had begun surging in the region.
Even as the administration had decided not to allow more than 500 devotees per day to visit the holy cave, many viewed the decision in the backdrop of putting the lives of both the devotees and locals at risk.
On Monday, an official statement from Raj Bhavan, while confirming the cancellation of the Yatra, admitted that health concerns were so serious that the strain on the health system, along with the diversion in resources to the Yatra, would be immense.
"This would also unnecessarily put the Yatris at risk of catching COVID-19," the official spokesperson said.
The statement added that cancellation of the Yatra "would enable the Health, Civil and Police Administrations to focus on the immediate challenges facing them rather than diverting resources, manpower and attention to the conduct of the Shri Amarnathji Yatra".
According to official sources, the final decision was taken after weeks of deliberation between the UT administration, security forces and SASB as the region began witnessing a steep rise in the number of coronavirus positive cases and deaths.
J&K has so far reported close to 260 deaths due to the coronavirus infection while over 14,500 cases have been reported since the outbreak with as many as 6,100 cases currently active, according to official data released daily by the administration’s public relations wing. On Monday, the region reported the highest single-day spike in the number of cases with 751 positive cases, a majority of them in Kashmir Valley.
Also Read: COVID-19: Highest Single-Day Spike in Cases Recorded in J&K
As coronavirus was spreading fast in Kashmir and the administration had re-imposed restrictions in the region, many had voiced apprehensions against the Yatra being allowed during the health crisis.
The annual Hindu pilgrimage has been disrupted the second time in row this year after the Yatra was cut-short last year in August ahead of the government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate J&K into two Union Territories. In August last year, the administration in Kashmir had issued an advisory to pilgrims asking them to end their stay and pilgrimage and leave the region immediately. Back then, the authorities cited security reasons for the advisory.
Earlier last week, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had directed SASB to take a final decision on the pilgrimage in view of the outbreak of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the authorities in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions had made most arrangements for holding the Yatra even as the final decision was pending.
Every year, Hindu pilgrims from across the world visit Kashmir to travel to the upper reaches of Pahalgam where the holy cave is located. The cave in the Himalayan snowy peaks is opened every year between June and August for devotees, whose numbers have risen to lakhs from a few thousands some decades ago.