For the second year in a row, the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) has decided to cancel the annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine in Kashmir due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 56-day yatra to the 3,880-metre-high cave located in the upper reaches of the Himalayas was scheduled to start from the twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal on June 28 and culminate on August 22.
The pilgrimage was also cancelled in 2020 because of the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, the yatra was cut short as the government emptied the Valley of pilgrims and tourists before revocation of Article 370 on August 5 amid security and communication clampdown.
Announcing the decision, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who is also Chairman of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, underlined that decision was arrived at in view of the “larger public interest.”
The decision is in right earnest given the fact that covid-19 second wave was only ebbing and not fully controlled as yet. Had the authorities went ahead with the Yatra, it would have created more harm than good in terms of the situation as regards the pandemic.
The SASB has done well to enable for devotees morning and evening Aarti in online mode which would help them to pay their obeisance while also avoiding travel and exposure. The SASB should ensure live-streaming sans interruptions of the programs announced by it on the Board’s official website and the app specifically dedicated for the devotees.
It must be noted that a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary, Ajay Bhalla, on June 21 to review the public health response to COVID-19 urged the government to remain in a “state of readiness” to mitigate future surges.
He also stressed the need to undertake a combined strategy of test-track-treat cases, micro containment of emerging hot spots, speedy vaccination, enforcement of COVID appropriate behaviour and ramping up of dedicated medical facilities for successful containment of the disease. This is important to note that covid-19 situation was still threatening and as such the decision by the SASB was precise. It is true that the government had augmented health infrastructure in peripheries to meet any emergency on covid-19 front. However, it is also true that despite best efforts by the administration, the facilities may not match the ones available in the established heath institutions. The decision by SASB will surely save lives and as noted by the Lieutenant Governor earlier also: “nothing is more important than saving lives.”