Devotees gather on the banks of Ganges during the Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar.
Thousands of devotees, some of them without masks, gathered by the river Ganges in Uttarakhand's Haridwar on Sunday in densely packed crowds for prayers during the Kumbh Mela - one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.
A day ahead of the Shahi Snan - considered to be an auspicious day to take holy dip in the river - more than one lakh devotees were seen on the banks of the river, in clear violation of the COVID-19 rules issued by the Health Ministry. Many devotees have been claiming that COVID-19 is not a major concern anymore since the state government has made a negative RT-PCR result mandatory for those visiting Haridwar.
Along with devotees, scores of seers representing 13 Akhadas will also be taking dip in the Ganges on Monday.
Held every 12 years, this year's Kumbh Mela is taking place in extraordinary circumstances, at a time when the second wave of the pandemic has gripped the country with over 1.5 lakh COVID-19 cases being reported in the last 24 hours.
Even as warnings against violation of COVID-19 rules have been installed at almost all the ghats and experts have urged general public to avoid large gathering and maintain social distancing to avoid further spread of the coronavirus, several devotees say it is practically impossible to adhere by these guidelines during the pilgrimage.
386 people have tested positive in the last 24 hours in Haridwar. There are 2056 active COVID-19 cases in the city. It has witnessed a 100 per cent jump in both the daily and active cases in just a week's time. On April 4, the city recorded 173 cases while the active cases stood at 837.
Meanwhile, several traffic diversions have been made across the city and separate timings have been allotted to all 13 Sadhu Akhadas, during which No devotees will be allowed the access to the bathing ghats.
''It's a very challenging exercise to manage crowds. There are guidelines from the state and the Central governments. SOPs have also been issued to the general public that will be applicable till 30th April which require public to submit negative RT-PCR report, a medical certificate and identity card to generate e-pass to be able to access Haridwar Kumbh area," said IG SK Gunjyal, Mela Police officer.
He also urged the public to follow the COVID-19 rules and avoid becoming "a cause for the further spread" of virus.