The ‘kanwar yatra’ – an annual pilgrimage taken out this season by thousands of devotees who march on foot to the holy city of Haridwar – has presented a peculiar situation for Uttarakhand, a BJP-ruled state. While the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, also ruled by the BJP, has allowed the yatra, the hill state has suspended the procession.
The Pushkar Singh Dhami-led Uttarakhand government now faces a dilemma as to how to control the likely rush of hundreds of marchers.
Media reports said Uttarakhand is drafting a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to handle the pilgrims. DGP Ashok Kumar, who met his senior colleagues on Thursday (July 15), said forces would be deployed along the hill state borders, The Indian Express reported. The yatra begins around July-end.
The ‘kanwariyas’ (pilgrims) would be “respectfully” taken off the road and dropped back to the state borders, the officer said. If found near a holy site, a ‘kanwariya’ would be led to the nearest temple to offer prayers and dropped on the border.
Trains will be halted before Haridwar and checked. The pilgrims will be deboarded and taken to the nearby border, said DIG (Law and Order) Nilesh Anand Bharne.
Each district will draw up its own SOP for enforcement of the ban on the yatra, such as keeping shops selling items connected to it shut.
One of the proposals is putting kanwariyas entering Haridwar under quarantine for 14 days, after which they would be sent back. The DGP said the Haridwar district police chief will speak to the District Magistrate on this.
The hill state receives a bulk of the kanwar yatra pilgrims, who march to Haridwar, Gangotri and Gaumukh to collect Ganga waters to carry back home as offering at Shiva temples. The yatra had been suspended last year too due to Covid. In 2019, Uttarakhand had received around 3.5 crore pilgrims.
The state action follows its experience of the Kumbh Mela, which had led to a spike in cases just before the start of the deadly second COVID wave.
The kanwar enforcement teams, to be formed in Haridwar, Dehradun, Tehri and Pauri Garhwal district, will patrol the routes traditionally taken by the pilgrims.
Police authorities are also planning meetings with kanwar associations and committees regarding the ban on the kanwar yatra.