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THE cancellation of the Amarnath pilgrimage is a good step by the government. Though the pilgrimage was expected not to be held this year due to the devastating second Covid-19 wave pandemic, the government had earlier kept the options open. The administration wanted to undertake the yatra in a restricted manner so that the Standard Operating Procedure for Covid-19 was followed.

This had generated some unease in Kashmir where people apprehended that the yatra will lead to a surge in Coronavirus cases. The people already had the example of Kumbh Mela before them which became a major cause for spreading Covid-19 throughout the country. Kashmir itself became the victim of unchecked tourism leading to an exponential rise in infections with daily caseload rising to over 5000. Last year’s peak was over 1000 cases only.

As things stand, J&K, particularly the Valley, is still reeling from the second Covid–19 wave. On Monday, Jammu and Kashmir reported 362 new Covid-19 Cases, 101 from Jammu Division and 261 from Kashmir division. There were 10 deaths.  As this state of affairs reveals, though the number of infections has drastically reduced over the last month, the pandemic is still not under control. This has forced the government to keep lockdown in place for three days a week. And this too at a time when it is summer, the peak tourism season.

Under these circumstances, allowing the Amarnath Yatra to go ahead looked odd and also, in a sense, discriminatory when the same administration had chosen to ban the religious gatherings in Kashmir. During the yatra, the pilgrims from all across India would have visited J&K. They would have had 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.

At the same time, the 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. Also, the vaccination is progressing at a snail’s pace. People have to wait for months before getting the second dose. Lockdowns will only further crush the economy that has already been reeling from two years of disruption.

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