Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on Friday said that the Char Dham Yatra will begin from September 18, reported news agency ANI.
The state government has started preparing for the yatra after the decision of the Uttarakhand High Court to lift the ban on the pilgrimage.
The Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday lifted the ban on Char Dham Yatra and allowed only fully Covid vaccinated people with a mandatory COVID-19 negative report for the annual pilgrimage. The court ordered devotees to follow strict COVID-19 protocols and limited the number of visitors too.
The Tourism Department of the state will issue a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in this regard on Friday. Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary Dr SS Sandhu has also reviewed the preparations for Char Dham Yatra and has given necessary instructions by holding a meeting with the officials of various departments related to travel including Tourism and Devasthanam Management Board, reported ANI.
Sandhu also instructed the District Magistrates of Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi and Pauri to make arrangements for road safety, cleanliness, crowd management, traffic arrangements, testing and compliance with the rules of Covid-19 on the Char Dham Yatra route.
Uttarakhand High Court lifts ban on Chardham Yatra
The Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday vacated its stay on the Chardham Yatra and directed the state government to conduct the pilgrimage with strict adherence to COVID-19 norms.
Lifting the ban on the yatra, a division bench of the court comprising Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma said the pilgrimage will start with restrictions like a daily limit on the number of devotees visiting the temples.
Carrying a negative COVID-19 test report and a vaccination certificate will also be mandatory for the visitors, the court said.
Putting a daily cap on the number of devotees visiting the famous Himalayan temples also known as the chardham, the high court said 800 pilgrims will be allowed in Kedarnath Dham, 1200 in Badrinath Dham, 600 in Gangotri and 400 in Yamunotri every day.
Pilgrims will not be allowed to take a bath in any of the springs around the temples, it said.
Police force will be deployed as per requirements during the Char Dham Yatra in Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts.
The court order comes as a big relief to the state government which was under pressure from various quarters to start the pilgrimage with which the livelihoods of lakhs of people including travel agents and pilgrimage priests are linked.
With the COVID-19 situation being uncertain, the court had on June 28 put a stay on the state Cabinet's decision to start the Chardham Yatra in a limited way for the residents of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts where the temples are located.
It had plans to open up the yatra in a phased manner for pilgrims from outside the state depending on the COVID-19 situation.
The state government then approached the Supreme Court to vacate the High Court's stay on the yatra. As the matter was pending in the apex court, the high court was not in a position to hear the state government's plea seeking lifting of the ban.
However, it recently withdrew its SLP in the Supreme Court paving the way for the high court to hear its plea. Advocate General SN Babulkar and Chief Standing Advocate CS Rawat, appearing for the government, demanded that the ban be removed to restore the livelihood of the local people.
The advocate general said there is an earning period of the Chardham Yatra and if the season passes, many families will suffer huge losses. The advocate general further pleaded that the initial worry of the Court while imposing the ban has been addressed and there has been a significant improvement in health services.
The government also assured the Court that there will be a strict adherence to the COVID-19 SOP for the Yatra. In June, the high court had stayed the Chardham Yatra till further orders, while hearing public interest litigations (PIL) related to increase in Covid cases, lack of health facilities and other factors.
Against this order, the state government had filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, which could not be heard.
Advocate General SN Babulkar and CSC Chandrashekhar Rawat had recently requested a bench headed by Chief Justice RS Chauhan to lift the ban on travel, but the court refused to consider it, citing the SLP pending before the Supreme Court. The government withdrew the SLP from the Supreme Court and apprised the high court, after which the high court heard the matter.
The Char Dham Yatra attracts lakhs of tourists and devotees every year from across the country and abroad. The four pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand which are part of the yatra are Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri.
(With inputs from ANI and PTI)