The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) on Tuesday decided to cancel this year's pilgrimage to the 3,880-metre-high cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas in the wake of the closure of religious places in Jammu and Kashmir due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A high-level meeting, chaired by Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir GC Murmo, was organised in Jammu through video conferencing to put an end to the speculations over the conduct of the yatra.
"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 SASB said in a statement.
It said the Board will, however, live telecast the prayers twice a day.
"The Board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees and to keep the religious sentiments alive, it shall continue the live telecast/virtual darshan of the morning and evening Aarti. Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per the past practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak shall be facilitated by the government," the SASB said.
The meeting discussed the organisation of this year's pilgrimage amid the coronavirus pandemic but could not come to a final decision, following which this year's yatra was unanimously postponed.
The administration, had earlier, considered allowing only 500 devotees by road per day from Jammu to the cave shrine this year and the yatra was to be held for only 15 days but in view of the growing number of cases of coronavirus in the country as well as in Jammu and Kashmir, the plan could not be implemented and orders were issued to cancel the Amarnath yatra.
"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 COVID-19," the SASB added.
However, the administration had completed all other arrangements in this regard, including security. The administration had also completely restored the Himalayan track for the movement of pilgrims by completely removing the snow from Baltal to the holy cave of Baba Barfani in the Himalayan mountains.
It is to be noted that Bhumi Pujan was organized on the arrival of Charri Mubarak at Pahalgam, while the religious and traditional yatra started with the holy Ashnan of Charri Mubarak in the Martand Surya Temple of Mattan.
After that it was expected that this year's yatra will start from July 21. However, the government faced criticism from many quarters as till date it had failed to clear its stand on the conduct of this annual Yatra.
Meanwhile, other political and religious organisations, including Shiv Sena, also criticized the government for not taking any decision on holding the yatra at the official level.
A public interest litigation was also filed in the Supreme Court on the cancellation of Amarnath Yatra in view of the pandemic.This was averted by the Supreme Court saying that the final decision on holding the Amarnath Yatra is in the hands of the government only.
It said the Board also discussed the decision of of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in which it was directed to take a final view on holding the yatra in light of the apex court's order, keeping in view the compliance of all healthcare protocols, standard operating procedures notified by the central government as well as by the union territory administration.
With PTI inputs