Thousands of devotees without masks gathered by the Ganges river in Uttarakhand's Haridwar on Sunday, April 11, in large numbers for prayers during the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.
A day ahead of the Shahi Snan (day to take holy dip in river), over one lakh devotees were seen on the banks of the river, in clear violation of the COVID-19 safety norms issued by the Union Health Ministry amid a second wave of the deadly pandemic, reported NDTV.
"Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will witness three major Snans in the Mahakumbh including two Shahi Snans on Monday and Wednesday respectively. Tuesday will have one significant Snan day to mark the occasion of Navsampat. However, of all the three, the biggest one would be on Wednesday on the occasion of Baisakhi when all 13 akhadas will take the holy dip in Ganga," Inspector general, Mahakumbh, Sanjay Gunjyal, said.
The grand event, which is expected to be attended by 30-50 million people, has also made it compulsory for all devotees to wear masks, maintain social distancing in the Kumbh Kshetra.
Along with devotees, scores of seers representing 13 Akhadas are all set to take a dip in the Ganges on Monday, April 12.
Even as warnings against violation of COVID rules have been put up at almost all the ghats, devotees say it is practically impossible to follow the guidelines during the pilgrimage.
The event comes in the backdrop of the state recording its highest single-day rise in COVID infections this year on Sunday with at least 1,333 cases.
Meanwhile, separate timings have been given to all 13 Sadhu Akhadas, during which no devotees will be permitted the access to the bathing ghats.
''It's a very challenging exercise to manage crowds. There are guidelines from the state and the Central governments. SOPs have also been issued to the general public that will be applicable till 30th April which require public to submit negative RT-PCR report, a medical certificate and identity card to generate e-pass to be able to access Haridwar Kumbh area," IG SK Gunjyal, Mela Police officer said.
The top cop also urged the public to follow all COVID protocols and avoid becoming "a cause for the further spread" of virus.
Additionally, the Uttarakhand Police is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to zoom in on those not wearing masks. The police have installed more than 350 CCTV cameras at different locations in the mela area, with about 100 of these with sensors that raise an alert when the camera captures the image of a person without a mask.
The AI-equipped cameras will also raise an alert at sites identified as vulnerable for stampede.