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Strict COVID-19 guidelines will deter pilgrims from attending Mahakumbh: Saints, Traders


DEHRADUN:  With strict guidelines in place for Mahakumbh 2021, suspicions over the success of 'Grand' religious event has started to pop up.

Saints, business groups and other stakeholders have raised their concerns over the strict norms, which they claim could discourage pilgrims and devotees from travelling to Haridwar for Mahakumbh 2021. 

"Such strict norms will clearly discourage devotees and pilgrims from all over the world from visiting Haridwar. The focus should be on better arrangements and not discouraging people from visiting the Mahakumbh," said Mahesh Giri, a saint from an Akhara in Haridwar. 

According to the SOP, pilgrims must have a COVID-19 RT-PCR negative test report (test done 72 hours prior to the date of visit) and must register themselves with the state government before visiting the religious congregation starting on February 27.  The SOPs also advocate 'appropriate COVID-19 behaviour' like social distancing, wearing of masks, and installing Aarogya Setu App mandatorily.  

Kiran Kumar, a hotelier from Haridwar, commenting in the issue said, "The year 2020 engulfed entire tourism industry, forcing shutting down of many establishments and thousands losing jobs in Haridwar itself. We were thinking maybe Mahakumbh is a God sent opportunity for us but with such strict guidelines that idea is no longer feasible."

Suggesting that the Kumbh Mela authorities 'may consider' curtailing the total duration of the Kumbh Mela, the SOP listed 15 preventive measures to check the spread of the COVID during the religious congregation.

"Kumbh Mela is not only a religious pilgrimage, but also perhaps the largest mass gathering at one place. It is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years and spans four locations. This year the Kumbh Mela would be held at Haridwar (Uttarakhand). The likely dates for this event are from 27th February 2021 to 30th April 2021. It is expected that about 1 million (10 lakh) people will attend the mela on a regular day and about 5 million (50 lakh) people will attend the mela on auspicious 
days," said the SOP. 

As religious tourism got hit badly in Uttarakhand due to COVID 19 epidemic, priests opted for odd jobs including factory workers earning between Rs 8000-12,000 per month.  Many priests from Haridwar including the 'Ganga Temple' at Har ki Pairi had opted to work in factories in evening shift to sustain themselves. 

The epidemic had hit the religious institutions so hard that providing salaries and ration has become difficult for the temples in Haridwar.

Apart from the chief priest of the temple total 8 'Vedpathi' (Vedic scholars acting as priests) are employed who take care of temple duties shift wise.

Morning shift which starts at 5, include the work of ceremonial bath and other rituals while the second shift starts at 2 pm ending at 11 pm.

All the employed priests are allocated shifts rotation wise to handle devotees and other work of the temple which has been disrupted due to the epidemic.