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Uncertainty persists on scale of Kumbh Mela but vaccine will make it better: Maharaj

THE PIONEER TALK

Ahead of the Kumbh Mela to be held in Haridwar during 2021, it is important to meet the expectations of the religious fraternity. Stating this, the State’s Tourism, Culture and Irrigation minister Satpal Maharaj said that recent developments like the new strain of Covid-19 emerging from Britain had exacerbated the uncertainty regarding the scale of the Kumbh Mela. He said that he had met the Union Health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan to ascertain whether the state will be provided the Covid-19 vaccine for the Kumbh Mela. If the vaccine is made available the frontline staff and aged members of the religious fraternity will be vaccinated. The minister said this during an online interaction with The Pioneer during which he spoke on various issues including the plans for enhancing tourism and his views on the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party considering the 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections.

Regarding the Covid-19 scenario Maharaj said that awareness is vital along with prevention and swift decision making to deal with the situation. Stating that the pandemic had affected lives around the world, he said that it had also taught us to view tourism differently. He said, “Despite the pandemic, we ensured that our Char Dham shrines were reopened on time with necessary precautions. The Char Dham Yatra was held and in some places it went ahead considerably well while in some places it picked up gradually. This also generated income for the people and gave the people hope that all is not destroyed amidst the pandemic. Apart from this, the tourism department also held an MTB race, a hot air balloon festival and the Nayar valley adventure sports festival. We are also planning to hold the Nainital winter carnival, Auli skiing championship and Marchula adventure meet to attract visitors to Uttarakhand. As it is our state has good clean environment apart from which whenever trouble heightens, people have looked towards the Himalaya.”

Regarding the plans for reviving and enhancing tourism in the state, the minister said that taxi drivers and tour operators are also being educated on various tourist destinations. Combining 12 temples each in Garhwal and Kumaon regions, a goddess Bhagwati circuit has been formed. Similarly, a lord Shiva circuit comprising temples in Garhwal and Kumaon in addition to similar circuits of lord Vishnu and Narsingh and Navgrah are also being developed. Apart from this as the Char Dham shrines close during the winters, the presiding deities are worshipped in Kharsali, Mukhba, Ukhimath, Pandukeshwar and Joshimath. The State is making an effort to encourage devotees to visit these shrines during the winter to pay their obeisance to the presiding deities of the Char Dham shrines.

On being asked whether care is being taken to ascertain that heritage is maintained in tourism development works, Maharaj pointed out that the George Everest estate in Mussoorie is not being distorted in the restoration work. He stressed that it will be restored to its original glory, adding that Everest’s family members had also shown interest in the state’s efforts. The minister added that the Lambi Deher mines located in Mussoorie area and believed to be haunted will also be developed into a tourist destination for those interested in experiencing such locations. On the question of how the government will maintain the sanctity of religious centres while also encouraging religious tourism, Maharaj said that assistance for all activities related to tourism is being provided under the Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali scheme. Apart from this, focus is being laid on preventing crowding and maintaining social distancing for which the department has diversified the choices and attractions available for pilgrims and tourists.

On the subject of challenges posed in irrigation in a mountain state like Uttarakhand, the minister said that at a time when semi critical water levels had been reached in various places, the farmers were being encouraged to use latest technology. “Instead of flood agriculture which entails wastage of water, we are encouraging techniques like sprinklers, drip irrigation and hydroponics which are water efficient and effective,” he said.

Regarding the position of the BJP ahead of the 2022 Vidhan Sabha elections he said, “There is no opposition for the BJP in Uttarakhand. The people have seen our work. However, it is important that the party workers be heard and that the party consolidate its unity before the elections. There can be difference of opinion among the leaders but there shouldn’t be dislike among them.”

On whether a third front as being offered by the Aam Aadmi Party is feasible in Uttarakhand, the minister said that it is not easy in this state. “There are various organisational challenges in the mountainous region which are not faced in the plains. The crowds they may attract in the events will not necessarily convert into votes.”

Regarding infrastructural issues facing Haridwar in view of the Kumbh Mela, he said that the vehicular traffic to Tehri, Pauri, Dehradun and Rishikesh passes through Haridwar which needs to be bypassed. Further, one needs to work with a vision for an international airport as there are many who are interested in landing here directly from foreign countries.

Monday, 28 December 2020 | PNS | Dehradun

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