DEHRADUN: An unprecedented 28 deaths of pilgrims in the last 10 days on Char Dham Yatra routes has sent the administration into a tizzy.
The central government has decided to deploy teams from Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to aid the tourists, while a team of doctors from Armed Forces Medical Services will also be posted on the routes to Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri to treat any ailing devotees.
Acknowledging that the state administration is shaken by the death of so many pilgrims in the first 10 days of the Yatra, a senior official in state government said, “The instructions have been issued from the centre for the deployment of the central forces and medical teams from the Army.”
Sources from the state government told The New Indian that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has sought a report from the state government over the deaths.
More than 3 lakh pilgrims have visited the four shrines since their opening on May 3. Kedarnath had so far attracted 1,30,257 pilgrims while 76,968 had gone to the Badrinath shrine.
Deaths during physically strenuous and mentally challenging journey are a common occurrence with 112 pilgrims meeting their end in 2017 while 102 died in 2018. In 2019, 90 pilgrims lost their lives. However, 28 deaths during the first 10 days of the yatra, are unheard of, according to government’s own records..
Independent medical experts, as well as the state government, suspect that the spike in deaths this season is due to COVID-19 induced conditions in the body apart from cardiovascular diseases, altitude sickness and related health issues.
Shailja Bhatt, director general (DG), medical health & family welfare, Uttarakhand said, “In almost all these unfortunate losses of lives, the reasons, which have come to the fore, include cardiovascular diseases including hypertension which led to cardiac arrest, heart failure in many cases along with Covid infection-induced complications and other comorbidities.”
Dr Ajay Khanna, state secretary of Uttarakhand Chapter of Indian Medical Association said, “Maximum number of the deaths include those who have comorbidities such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and other issues.”
“Also, there is a stark difference in temperatures and oxygen levels at such heights when people travel from plains to the high-altitude locations between 10,000 to 12,000 feet where the four shrines are located,” he added.
“So many deaths also reflect the paucity of medical facilities. The government, as well as the private sector, must take steps to step up the medical infrastructure in the remote areas of Uttarakhand,” Dr Khanna added.
The officials from the state health department however stated that 48 government-run hospitals and 23 temporary/ makeshift medical establishments are there on the routes.
A total of 169 doctors are posted along with 65 pharmacists and hundreds of other supporting staff including nurses, ward boys and others, to take care of the medical needs of the pilgrims of all Char Dham shrine routes.
“To deal with a medical situation, we have a total of eight blood banks and four blood storage units. A total of 102 ambulances with advanced life support systems have been placed at sensitive locations on all the routes of the Yatra. We have also issued helpline number 104 for the pilgrims to use in a medical emergency to get required help,” said DG health.
Mayur Dikshit, district magistrate of Rudraprayag, where the Kedarnath shrine is located said, “Most of the unfortunate deaths on the shrine route are of the people who are walking on foot, have comorbidities and are over 50-years of age. We have placed the best medical, sanitation, drinking water and other facilities for the pilgrims. We have also urged the people to exercise caution while travelling along with medical check-ups and care.”