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Haridwar Kumbh: A saga of confusion & changed strategies

Sunday, 18 April 2021 | Gajendra Singh Negi | Dehradun

PM Modi’s tweet on symbolic Kumbh vindicates stand taken by former CM Trivendra Singh Rawat on organising a limited Kumbh

The appeal of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a symbolic Kumbh in Haridwar in the wake of grim situation of pandemic of Covid-19 has not only highlighted the failure of authorities concerned in ensuring a safe Kumbh but also vindicated the stand taken by former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on the manner in which the grand event should be organised.  The experts believe that a change in strategy on the organisation of the Kumbh with the change of chief minister last month also created a situation of confusion among the Kumbh Mela authorities which also resulted in late and faulty planning and its implementation.

It is well known fact that the former CM was in the favour of a limited Kumbh to minimise the chances of the event becoming a super spreader of Covid-19.  Though his stand had annoyed some sections of the religious fraternity but the government during his tenure was firm on giving priority to safety over the religious sentiments. It should be recalled that in the first week of February when the signs of second wave of Covid-19 were clearly visible in some states, the Uttarakhand government had made plans to put a cap on number of devotees for the Kumbh. The chief secretary Om Prakash had even requested the Indian Railways not to run any special trains for the event. The state government had taken a stand that pilgrims would be allowed to enter Haridwar only on production of a negative report of RT-PCR test.  This plan of action for a limited Kumbh got changed with the change of chief minister.  Immediately after assuming charge, the new chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat announced that there would be no unnecessary restrictions on the pilgrims as the mega religious event is organised after a gap of 12 years. He however stressed that Covid-19 protocol would be followed and authorities would enforce a safe Kumbh. The change in the plan also created confusion among the organisers. 

On the intervention of Uttarakhand High Court (HC) which ordered that the negative RT-PCR test report should be mandatory for the pilgrims, the administration made preparation of checking the borders. The HC also directed that the authorities should ensure at least 50,000 Covid-19 tests daily on the borders during the Kumbh, however this figure was not achieved by the Mela authorities.
 With the advent of Kumbh which saw congregation of about 50 Lakh pilgrims on two Shahi Snans on April 12 and 14 the contagion of the Covid-19 also gathered momentum. Many saints including the President of Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP) Swami Narendra Giri became positive for the disease during their stay in Kumbh.  The data of the state health department clearly show that the number of cases of Covid-19 in Haridwar with the progress of Kumbh.

On March 31, a day before the Kumbh started the state health department reported only 70 cases of the disease. This figure bounced to 149 on April 1 and climbed to 613 on April 15, a day after the Shahi Snan of Baisakhi.

The founder of the Social Development for Communities (SDC) foundation, Anoop Nautiyal said, “The fact that PM had to make an appeal to curtail Kumbh vindicates that the state government and Kumbh Mela authorities failed in ensuring a safe Kumbh. Their claims of making adequate pandemic safety preparations have fallen flat.’’

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