Having experienced the resurgence in Covid cases after the first wave, the present decline should not lull people into the earlier complacency, as almost all experts are certain there will be a third wave. Opening up commercial and social activities is a must, but every effort should be put in to blunt the edge of the pandemic. While it is, eventually, the duty of every citizen to take precautions at the individual level, it is also the task of governments and local administrations to allow activity only at manageable levels. This is particularly important for Uttarakhand as it is greatly dependent on activities with social interface such as tourism and pilgrimage. It may be remembered that the ‘mishandling’ of the Kumbh Mela has been, rightly or wrongly, blamed for the second wave.
Now, it is the turn of the Kanwad Yatra. The State Government has experienced several embarrassments in recent days. First, it was the intervention by the High Court in the Kumbh Mela; then its ban on the ‘Char Dham Yatra’, including even the inter-district movement of local pilgrims. Basically denied the authority to act as the elected government – taking decisions based on a nuanced understanding of the economic situation as well as public sentiments – there is natural hesitancy regarding the ‘Kanwad Yatra’. With the state chapter of the Indian Medical Association warning that it could prove a ‘superspreader’ event, the stakes have become even higher.
The obvious question is: for how long will bans serve the purpose? People’s livelihoods have been devastated and there seems to be no end in sight – increasing the level of desperation. The answer should be properly disciplined conduct of events but local administrations have shown they are incapable of that. The Kempty Falls kind of incidents and the completely irresponsible attitude of tourists have sent alarm bells ringing everywhere. So, for the time being, at least, discretion seems the better part of valour.
In the period before Covid cases begin rising again, government needs to focus on two basic initiatives – first, speeding up the vaccination process as much as possible and, two, working out control modalities in every stage of the opening up. It is evident that there is no shortage of people wanting to visit the state – the necessary effort should go into planning it properly and diversifying from just the few well-known destinations. There is a limit to how much the people will accept the hardline approach – before they go berserk, just plan better.