The annual Amarnath Yatra, the Hindu pilgrimage to icy Himalayan cave shrine in Kashmir, will not take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the second year in a row that the pilgrimage has been disrupted. Last year, it was called off mid-way, days before the Centre scrapped Article-370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.
"Based upon the circumstances, the Board decided with heavy heart 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," the Amarnath Shrine Board said in a statement.
Devotees can pay respects to the deity through live telecast, it said.
"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," it added.
The Supreme Court, in an order this month, had asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to take a decision on organising the pilgrimage, taking in account the ground realities.
On Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu presided over a meeting of the Board, which was attended by senior Union Territory and the Board officials.
"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," the Board explained the decision to cancel the pilgrimage, which is attended by thousands of people every year.
The Centre in May had allowed the opening of religious places, but with restrictions, under what it called Unlock2. However, several states decided otherwise amid rising coronavirus cases. The Jammu and Kashmir government this month extended the lockdown till July 31.
"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," it said.
India's coronavirus tally surged to 1,55,191 cases after more than 37,000 new infections were registered in the last 24 hours.