The mega Kumbh Mela at Haridwar will continue till April 30 and there has been no discussion to close it early on account of surging Covid infections, officials said today as they denied any move to wrap up the event two weeks early.
"The Kumbh Mela used to begin in January, but looking at the Covid situation, the state government decided to start it in April this time. The centre's SOP said because of the situation, the duration would be reduced. I have no information of it being curtailed," said Deepak Rawat, District Magistrate, Haridwar, and Kumbh Mela officer.
Earlier today, there were reports of discussions between the Uttarakhand government and religious leaders who have so far remained unconvinced about cancelling the event.
But officials said this evening no discussions took place and the Kumbh gathering would continue uninterrupted.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees have been gathering for the annual event on the banks of the river Ganga for a holy dip, escalating concerns about an exponential rise in Covid cases amid a countrywide spike in infections.
This morning, large crowds of Sadhus and devotees went for the "Shahi Snan" or "royal bath" to the main ghat, Har Ki Pauri, on the third major bathing day of the weeks-long festival.
The state government said till 2 pm, a staggering 9,43,452 devotees had taken a dip on what is considered one of the most auspicious days of the Kumbh.
"People are being fined for not following social distancing in non-crowded ghats, but it is very hard to fine people in the main ghats, which are very crowded," police officer Sanjay Gunjyal told Reuters.
The next significant Kumbh day is set for April 27.
There has been nationwide criticism of the decision not to call off the religious gathering this year; the event usually sees record crowds and critics see it as a potential super-spreader. The powerful akhadas or seer groups have, however, refused to call off the Kumbh Mela.
There was no distancing and hardly any masks as seers and their followers walked down the steps at Har Ki Pauri today and waded into the river for the ritual dip. Even policemen tasked with managing the crowds and ensuring compliance with Covid rules were seen joining in.
Uttarakhand recorded its highest single-day spike in Covid-19 cases on Tuesday with 1,925 people testing positive. Haridwar has reported 1,000 cases in two days.