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CANCELLATION of the Amarnath Yatra is a good step by the government. Though the pilgrimage was expected not to be held this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government had decided to go ahead with it ignoring the risks involved. The administration wanted to undertake the yatra in a restricted manner so that the Standard Operating Procedure for Covid-19 were strictly followed - a maximum of 500 yatris were to be allowed per day by road from Jammu. On July 5 morning Lieutenant Governor Girish Chander Murmu even peformed 'Pratham Aarti' of the ice stalagmite at the holy cave shrine. The Aarti was performed as part of the preparations for the yatra.

This had generated some unease in Kashmir where people apprehended that the yatra will lead to a surge in the cases of Coronavirus. As things stand, J&K, particularly the Valley, is already reeling from an exponential rise in the positive cases. In J&K, the cases are now around 16000 with about 280 deaths. The daily caseload hovers around 500. This has forced the government to impose a fresh lockdown for six days. And this too at a time when Kashmir is looking forward to Eid-ul-Azha and it is the time for many businesses to make most of the spending that takes place.

Under these circumstances to allow the Amarnath Yatra to go ahead looked odd and also, in a sense, discriminatory when the same administration had chosen to bar the religious gatherings in Kashmir. During yatra, the pilgrims from all across India would have visited J&K. They would have to travel hundreds of kilometres through the country to reach their destination. So, letting the pilgrimage take place in the middle of a pandemic with cases rising by the day was an ill-advised move. However, it is good that the better counsel has eventually prevailed and the government has seen through the risks involved. Even Mahant Deependra Giri, the custodian of the holy mace of Lord Shiva, has supported the decision to cancel this year’s pilgrimage.

At the same time, cancellation of the yatra is a huge economic loss for the thousands of people associated with it and who have come to depend on it for their livelihood.

Here's hoping that the yatra takes place next year. And for that to happen the administration has to focus all its energies on the fight against Coronavirus. But on this score, the situation doesn't look promising enough. So far the government has been entirely banking on the lockdowns to sail through the crisis. It has ignored the upgradation of the healthcare infrastructure that should have been its main priority. Lockdowns will only further crush the economy that has already been reeling from a year-long closure.

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