Soon after the Uttarakhand state government decided to cancel this year’s Kanwar Yatra in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, over 800 police personnel are guarding vital crossings at Haridwar to keep Kanwariyas at bay and ensure compliance of Covid-19 guidelines since July 25. The police personnel are keeping a watch to ensure that no Kanwariyas or devotees enter the holy city till August 7 and violate the government’s order. According to an Indian Express report, the police are returning as many as 150 vehicles back from these checkposts every day and only allowing those with a genuine travel need and negative RT-PCR report inside the city.
What poses a challenge for the police personnel is separating kanwariyas who want to enter in the city surreptitiously from those who have a genuine travel need but do not possess a negative RT-PCR report.
How are police identifying suspected Kanwariyas?
According to the Haridwar police data quoted by the Indian Express police have been successful in returning as many as 26,217 people who were assumed to be kanwariyas as they did not possess RT-PCR negative report nor they could explain any ‘valid’ need to enter the city. Sub-Inspector Anand Chauhan who was manning one such post along with his colleagues told the Indian Express that people who do not have a negative test report or a valid reason to travel to the city are registered as Kanwariyas by police. Chauhan also said that in such situations it is assumed that the Kanwariyas are attempting to somehow make their way around to enter into the city and collect the holy water of the Ganges from Har ki Pauri. The police personnel are also strictly screening passenger vehicles bearing the number plate of an outside state such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh among others.
Challenges before police
Even before and after the Kanwariya period and the holy month of Shravana, the state of Uttarakhand is considered one of the holiest places by crores of Hindus and a number of rituals starting from the birth to the final rites of a person are conducted at countless temples, shrines and the bank of the Ganges. Take for example two instances at the same outpost- a couple accompanied with their kids wanting to take a dip into the river or a host of relatives wanting to disperse the ashes of a departed soul into the river. The couple convinced the police personnel that they wanted to take a dip in the river as there is an impending family function and were let into the city after they showed their vaccine certificate and registered on the state government portal.
On the other hand, about 11 family members and relatives who were enroute to the Ganges to disperse ashes of their loved one were stopped by police personnel and only four of the lot were let in, as per the guidelines issued by the state government for such cases. The police personnel also conducted a rapid antigen for the four members and let them visit the holy river.
Other arrangements made by Police
As advised by the honourable Supreme Court, the state government has deployed tankers filled with the Ganga river at multiple crossings in the state to ensure that all devotees get the sacred river water. The police are also keeping an eye on the spots like Har Ki Pauri, Gangotri among others to ensure that there are no Kanwariyas who might have already entered into the state. A small number of unfortunate incidents have also been reported from the state including an incident that occured on July 25 when police had to book more than two dozens of Kanwariyas who had entered the city posing as tourists. The government has also made adequate arrangements for the institutional quarantine of the Kanwariyas and sending them back to the borders by shuttle buses.