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Stringent registration, medical checks missing on yatra route

Despite Govt Orders, Regulation, Screening Of Pilgrims Arbitrary
(Rudraprayag/Chamoli): Even though the state government has set a daily cap on Char Dham pilgrims and made registration mandatory for the yatra, a spot check at Badrinath and Kedarnath revealed that registrations are not being checked strictly on the route to the shrine towns, posing a question mark on  how the government is regulating the pilgrim numbers.
Also, despite the spate of pilgrim deaths since the yatea started, screening of pilgrims over 50 or stringent health check ups are missing. This reporter undertook the Kedarnath trek route earlier this week and did not spot any place where pilgrims were being screened or turned away after being found medically-unfit.
The claims of the pilgrim numbers beng regulated also seemed questionable given the footfall at the temple towns. A volunteer at the offline registration centre at Kedarnath said that they were issuing 300-400 registrations per day.
"We have been issuing the same number of tokens ever since the yatra began on May 6. That hasn't changed despite the mandatory registration," he said.
The line for the token itself can go up to a kilometre, said locals and that for darshan is even longer. Post sundown, even the token system fails. Same situation was observed in Badrinath where registrations were checked randomy. "People make all sorts of excuses, cite network issues when we ask them to produce the registrations. The crowd has been the same for the past three weeks. This checking should be done before they enter the town. It becomes difficult to send people away once they are midway in the darshan line," said a cop manning the exit of Badrinath temple.
Scouts outside the Badri temple are even pushing people to bypass the long darshan line by asking pilgrims to state false  health issues and then use porters who take them around the temple for a fee of Rs 500-Rs 1,000.
Some pilgrims were found to be not even aware of the registration but had still reached the temple towns.
As far as medical checkups were concerned, a 66-years old tourist on the Kedarnath and Badrinath route said that while their vehicle was stopped at four-five police check posts, nowhere was a health check up mentioned or done. The mandatory checks are being done sporadically, if at all. However, officials insist that they are being done.
"We have health check ups happening at Rudraprayag and Sonprayag (a major point just before the Kedarnath trek begins from Gaurikund). Our personnel move from Phatta there everyday. Some cases might get missed due to odd hours of the day but check ups are happening regularly," alleged BK Shukla, chief medical officer, Rudraprayag though  no visible health check up post was seen at these points.
Health officials also said that in case the check ups are bein gmissed, the local police are liable as they are the ones in charge of stopping the vehicles. "We are carrying out checks at Pandukeshwar and Gauchar for the Badrinath shrine," said CMO, Chamoli Shiv Kuriyal, though spot check did not confirm this. Elderly pilgrims were seen on both the routes and between the blame game of the departments, deaths gave continued. In addition to lapses in registrations and health check ups, pilgrims have raised concerns about the exorbitant prices of commodities. "The rates for porters and mules are displayed on the trek route. Despite this, they are being blatantly disregarded. From Lincholi to Gaurikund, the rate of a porter is supposed to be Rs 3,600 uphill but they aren't settling or anything less than Rs 7,000 for the downhill trek. Horse handlers are also asking for huge dsums and demanding prices as high as Rs 7,000 for the trek down even though it is supposed to be less than Rs 4,000, according to the set rate list," said a pilgrim from Amethi. The most troublesome situation is that of mineral water. At those heights, the transportation  cost adds to that of the commodity and vendors are  blatantly using that excuse to charge any amount.
"There are natural springs all across the route and even some water coolers. But not all travellers use them. There are food shops every hundred metres but most of them don't keep packaged drinking water. If one does find shop with water, they are charging Rs 60 for a bottle that costs Rs 20 normally. After sundown, it gets worse and the price goes as high as Rs 80," said Keshav, a pilgrim from Bangalore.
 An official from Rudarprayag administration said they do get complaints from pilgrims but "transportation cost adds to the price at these heights."
"Sometimes rates are not displayed or the pilgrim finds the price after ordering or consuming the product. This becomes a grey area," said the official.
The district magistrate could not be rached for a comment.

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