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Perils of Amarnath-Yatra

By Altaf Hussain Wani 

Chairman Kashmir Institute of International Relations and Vice Chairman JKNF   

The Novel Coronavirus continues to be one of the greatest threats’ mankind has been facing over the past couple of years. Since the outbreak of the pandemic the virus is reported to have affected the lives of hundreds of millions across the globe. Until now the deadly virus has consumed the lives of over 37 million people. 

The Covid-19 has infected almost every country in the world; however, India remains among the worst hit countries that still reels under the devastating wave of pandemic, which consumethousands of lives each day. With more than 28, 694, 879 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the country has emerged as the World’s second largest country where corona-death toll has crossed to over 3.5 million, as per official figures. Independent observers and health experts have time and again questioned the figures put forth by the Indian government as they believe that numbers could be far higher than the official figures.  

Even though, the government tried hard to cover-up COVID-19 failures by fudging the exact figures but non-stop cremations and dead bodies of the covid-patients found afloat in waters of the Ganges River have left the BJP government totally exposed at national as well as international level. Crippling health care system, non-availability of necessary drugs, dwindling oxygen supply to hospitals and above all the government’s absolute failure to handle the situation had pushed the Indians towards an unprecedented health crisis that continues to loom large over the country. 

Along with terrible mishandling of the crisis, the government’s unblushing attempts to communalize the pandemic, branding Muslims as super-spreaders of the virus across the country and imposing ban on Friday prayers while allowing large crowds of Hindu devotees to attend Kumbh Festival in Hardiwar and holding election rallies in blatant violations of social distancing have exposed the dichotomy and double standard of the Modi regime, which remains overwhelmingly dominated by the RSS and right-wing Hindutva warriors, who actually decide what and what not the government should do. 

While the poor Indians reap the bitter harvest of Kumbh Mela in terms of the newly found highly contagious variants that are ripping through states around the country, the clueless government seems totally unconcerned and unmoved by the catastrophe that has befallen the Indian nation. In a state of denial, government seems to have learnt no lessons from the blunders it has committed during the pandemic. 

Rather adhering to globally recognized social distancing rules and avoiding large events and mass gatherings to prevent the spread of virus, the Modi government is dead set to hold Amarnath Yatra, which according to health experts could lead to a devastating wave of the coronavirus in the Indian occupied Kashmir-the region that battles COVID19 pandemic without an adequate health care system. 

The Yatra is scheduled to commence on 28th June, 2021. Though the SASB (Shri Amarnath Shrine Board) has suspended the registration of pilgrims temporarily but there is no official word from the government regarding the cancellation of the event. The Yatraexpected to be participated by over six hundred thousand Hindu pilgrims coming from the India’s CORONA-affected states, is bound to turn the disputed territory into a quagmire of coronavirus, in particular the Kashmir valley, where the covid-19 situation and its impacts on the society have grossly been overlooked and underestimated by the Indian government. Even spike in coronavirus cases in the restive region have not discouraged New Delhi from its Machiavellian machinations against Kashmiris. Despite calls for a ceasefire amid COVID-19 Indian occupation forces continued its cordon and search operations (CASO) in Kashmir that resulted in uncounted deaths of youth and destruction of public properties at an unprecedented scale. Moreover, DDC (district development council) elections were held in the territory in blatant violation of the COVID-19 social distancing rules. Singing and Music concerts were held to portray situation in Kashmir as normal and lately a six-day Tulip ‘festival’ was organized to celebrate arrival of spring in Kashmir. The event was held when the region was grappling with the highly virulent COVID second wave. 

Over the past several months the valley has witnessed an unprecedent influx of tourists’ and labourers who continue pour in from different Corona-affected parts of India without going through proper screening and covid-testing process. The influx of Indian tourists and labourers is cited as major cause of upsurge in coronavirus in Kashmir.  If the Modi-government went ahead with its decision to hold Yatra it would simply be a disaster in the making. 

Caught in the crosshairs of conflict and the coronavirus the people can no longer bear the terrible consequences of the Yatra, which like the Kumbh Mela could prove to a super-spreader of the virus in the region. Holding the event at this point of time would be tantamount to endangering the lives of millions of Kashmiris who have suffered immensely under the dual lockdown that besides inflicting massive economic losses have had a long-term impact on the region’s education and health-care system. 

Secondly, the massive influx of pilgrims visiting the ecologically fragile region is also a matter of grave concern. The environmental experts have already raised alarm over the growing activities in the Himalayan region saying that the increasing numbers not only affect the region’s environment but has terrible impact on plant, animal and aquatic life. 

Apart from the environmental fall out, the massive participation of pilgrims and their months’ long stay poses a great threat to the region that is hailed for its serene natural beauty the world over. The presence of over 600,000 men in the area simply means-thousands of metric tons of human excreta, millions of liters of liquid waste and hundreds of tons of plastic and food-wastage being added to the ecosystem. In absence of proper waste management system, hundreds and thousands of tons of garbage littered in and around the woods down the Amarnath Cave gets directly discharged into the atmosphere, which not only pollutes the forests but glaciers and rivers that happen to be main source of drinking water to millions of people settled in downstream villages alongside the River Lidder.  

Given the environmental hazards of the Yatra (Pilgrimage) and its far-reaching consequences on the lives of Kashmiri people, it is imperative that the world environmentalists in general and the UN secretary general in particular should take effective cognizance and raise the issue with the government of India so that the imminent threats posed by it to Kashmir’s ecology could be averted in time and the people’s lives could be saved from the tragic effects of the man-made disasters. 

The author is Chairman Kashmir Institute of International Relations, Vice Chairman JKNF, can be reached at saleeemwani@hotmail.com chairman@kiir.org.pk

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