Visuals of the choc-a-bloc crowd of faithfuls, who have assembled at Haridwar’s Harkipauri on the occasion of Kumbh mela, are direly unnerving. Religion and the holy dip in the Ganga appear to have been accorded precedence over public health and the elementary precaution to prevent infection during the resurgence of coronavirus and the crippling shortage of vaccines that has rendered the protection/prevention drive out of joint almost throughout the country.
Ignored in the process or deliberately violated are the basic certitudes of precautionary gear, notably thermal screening and wearing of masks. On Monday, more than 28 lakh devotees reportedly turned up for the ritualistic second shahi snan (royal bath) in the supposedly sacred river, albeit rendered thoroughly polluted over time and for a variety of reasons.
The violation of certitudes is as shocking as it is incredible. In the ten kilometre distance between Hardwar railway station in Uttarakhand to Harkipauri and the ghats, it beggars belief that there is no arrangement whatsoever for thermal screening.
Though there is an AI-enabled CCTV system in place to track down violators ~ whose number is legion ~ no action has been taken against those without masks, an elementary requirement. There is no thermal screening before or after the bath in the Ganga; no one asks for a test report in the mela complex.
No less critical must be the fact that devotees without test reports are being let through the barriers that dot the route to the river… and with no questions asked.
Indeed, irregularities and the almost deliberate flouting of norms have been institutionalised in the season of the dreadful ailment that has killed hundreds of thousands and quarantined many more. As the ghats are said to be reserved for akharas, there is no arrangement for thermal screening, not to mention social distancing.
Every rule in the book has been violated, and it is difficult to imagine that the administration in Dehra Doon can afford to be so blissfully impervious. Even challans for not wearing masks and thermal screening were avoided on Monday to prevent crowding at specific locations.
This is a feeble excuse for a potentially daunting catastrophe. Surely, alternate arrangements were imperative not the least because of the surge of the virus and the pilgrims, a lethal cocktail in the sphere of public health. Even the appeal of the police, amplified through the tannoy, to follow social distancing guidelines “went for a toss” to quote the designated Kumbh Mela IG.
Overall, there appears to be an aversion to guidelines on protection ~ “We have distributed 2.5 lakh masks and also conducted awareness camps. But people are not sticking to the Covid protocol,” is the lament of the nodal health officer.
Small wonder more than 100 pilgrims tested positive at the mela ground on Monday. Arguably, there are hundreds more who avoided the test, hoping that “Ganga Maa will take away my Covid”. As in 18th century India, superstition and ignorance are the two nooses hung around the neck of civilization.