This year’s Amarnath Yatra has been cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), the decision-making body regarding the pilgrimage, was slated to hold a meeting on Tuesday and take a final decision on the same. This is the second year in a row that the pilgrimage would not be carried out – last year it was cancelled mid-way, days before the Centre announced its twin decisions to scrap Article-370 and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.
“Based upon the circumstances, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board decided that it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year’s Shri Amarnathji Yatra and expressed its regret to announce the cancellation of Yatra 2020,” Raj Bhavan, Government of Jammu and Kashmir said.
The Board discussed the Supreme Court order dated 13.07.2020 in which, the decision to conduct the Yatra was left to the Administration/ Government after assessing the ground realities prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Board was informed that the arrangements were on track since February 2020, but due to nationwide lockdown and pandemic, State Executive Committee, J&K has still continued to keep religious places and places of worship closed for the public. These prohibitions continue till 31st July.
The Board further discussed that pandemic has put the health administration system to its limit. The spike has been particularly very sharp in July. Health Workers and Security Forces are also getting infected and the focus of entire Medical, Civil and Police Administration at the moment is on containing the local transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health concerns are so serious that the strain on the health system, along with the diversion in resources to the Yatra, will be immense. This would also unnecessarily put the Yatris at risk of catching the COVID-19.
The Board also discussed the decision of High court of J&K in Writ Petition (No CM No. 3022/2020 in WP(C) PIL No 5/2020 in which the Court directed SASB to take a final view in light of order of Hon’ble Supreme court dated 13.07.2020 and keeping in view the compliance of all healthcare protocols, Standard Operating Protocols notified by the Central Government as well as by the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
The Board further deliberated the considered views of the Government. The Government made reasoned observations supported by facts which suggested that it would not be advisable to conduct Shri Amarnathji Yatra 2020 and it would be advisable to cancel it this year in larger public interest. This would enable the Health, Civil and Police Administrations to focus on the immediate challenges facing them rather than diverting resources, manpower and attention to the conduct of the Shri Amarnathji Yatra.
Darshan to be telecast live
The SASB further decided that keeping in view, the sentiments of millions of devotees, a live telecast/ virtual darshan of morning and evening aartis will be done during the yatra period.
“The Board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees and to keep the religious sentiments alive, the Board shall continue the Live Telecast/ Virtual Darshan of the morning and evening Aarti. Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per past practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak shall be facilitated by the Government,” SASB said in a statement.
SC rejected a plea seeking cancellation of Amarnath Yatra
“We cannot enter the arena of the Executive. We have to respect the principle of separation of powers,” the apex court had said during the hearing on the matter.
“Issue a writ/order/direction in the nature of mandamus, directing the Respondents to restrict the access of the general public/devotees/pilgrims for the Shri Amarnath Yatra 2020, in view of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic or Issue a writ/order/direction in the nature of mandamus, directing the Respondents to provide for live darshan of the Lord Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine by way of the internet and the television, so that there can be access to crores of people across the country,” the petition had said.