Amarnath Yatra cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis
Srinagar: The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) on Tuesday decided to cancel this year’s pilgrimage to the 3,880-metre-high cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas in the wake of the closure of religious places in Jammu and Kashmir due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to cancel the annual Amarnath Yatra was taken at a meeting of the shrine board chaired by SASB chairman Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu here.
“Based upon the circumstances, the Board decided with heavy heart that it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year’s Shri Amarnathji Yatra and expressed its regret to announce the cancellation of Yatra 2020,” the SASB said in a statement.
It said the Board will, however, live telecast the prayers twice a day.
“The Board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees and to keep the religious sentiments alive, it shall continue the live telecast/virtual Darshan of the morning and evening Aarti. Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per the past practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak shall be facilitated by the government,” the SASB said.
The initially proposed 42-day Yatra was scheduled to commence from the twin tracks of Pahalgam and Ganderbal in Kashmir on June 23 but was delayed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had announced its plan to undertake the Yatra in a “restricted manner” this year and allow only 500 devotees by road per day from Jammu to the cave shrine.
The Tuesday’s decision has put an end to all speculations surrounding the annual pilgrimage.
A spokesman of the SASB said a threadbare discussion was held on the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and its likely impact on the Yatra before arriving at the decision.
“The Board discussed the Supreme Court order dated 13.07.2020 in which the decision to conduct the Yatra was left to the administration/government after assessing the ground realities prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir.
“The Board was informed that the arrangements were on track since February 2020, but due to the nationwide lockdown and the pandemic, the State Executive Committee, J&K, has still continued to keep religious places and places of worship closed for the public. These prohibitions continue till 31st July,” the board said.
It said the meeting also discussed that the pandemic has put the health administration system under stress.
“The spike has been particularly very sharp in July. Health workers and security forces are also getting infected and the focus of entire medical, civil and police administration at the moment is on containing the local transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health concerns are so serious that the strain on the health system, along with the diversion in resources to the Yatra, will be immense. This would also unnecessarily put the yatris at risk of catching COVID-19,” the SASB added.
It said the Board also discussed the decision of the J&K High Court in which it was directed to take a final view on holding the Yatra in light of the apex court’s order, keeping in view the compliance of all healthcare protocols, standard operating procedures notified by the central government as well as by the union territory administration.
“The government made reasoned observations supported by facts which suggested that it would not be advisable to conduct Shri Amarnathji Yatra 2020 and it would be advisable to cancel it this year in larger public interest. This would enable the health, civil and police administrations to focus on the immediate challenges being faced by them rather than diverting resources, manpower and attention to the conduct of the Shri Amarnathji Yatra,” the SASB said.