Uttarakhand govt’s plan to begin ‘Char Dham’ yatra a non-starter as priests refuse to participate

The priests at the temples have suggested that since there has been a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state, the government should take a decision after June 30 as per the situation at the time

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media

SMA Kazmi

The BJP-led Uttarakhand government’s plan to restart the annual ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage to the four revered Hindu temples of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri has landed in a controversy following the refusal of the purohits and pandas – including the Rawal (head priest) of Badrinath temple – to participate in it due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

After the Central government issued guidelines that allow religious places to open from June 8, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh announced that the ‘Char Dham’ yatra would restart in a calibrated manner, with only limited pilgrims allowed to enter these shrines at a time.

‘Char Dham’ yatra to these holy places has been the mainstay of the economy of the Garhwal Himalayas during the summer months. The BJP government is keen to restart the yatrawhich usually begins with the opening of the portals of these revered temples in the last week of April every year. This year, the portals of the temples are open but pilgrims are not allowed to visit them.

The state government was also contemplating allowing locals to participate in the ‘Char Dham’ yatra a fortnight ago when most of the hilly districts were in the green zone with no reported case of COVID-19.

However, things changed drastically when migrants belonging to the hills and working in other states were allowed to return home. The COVID-19 tally in the state – which was 65 in the past two months since the lockdown – has since climbed to more than 1100, with the disease engulfing the entire state.

Moreover, the priests and pandas of Gangotri and Yamunotri are already unhappy with the state government’s move to bring in the Uttarakhand Devasthanam Act which allows the government to take control of 51 temples in the state. The Act has already been challenged by the priests in Nainital High Court.

In this backdrop, the priests, including the Rawal of Badrinath temple, have sent a letter to the state government requesting it not to start the ‘Char Dham’ yatra before June 30. They suggested that since there has been a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state, the state government should take a decision after June 30 as per the situation at the time.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Congress has also charged the Chief Minister of attempting to spread Coronavirus at the revered ‘Char Dham’ temples by allowing pilgrims from outside to visit. Suryakant Dhasmana, vice-president of Uttarakhand Congress, said that the state government should focus on containing the spread of Coronavirus rather than taking decisions which could turn the situation from bad to worse.

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