Despite India facing a severe second wave of COVID-19, the central government did not ban religious gathering for Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. About 35 lakh pilgrims have gathered at the banks of river Ganga to take a holy dip (Shahi Snan). According to reports, over 2,000 people and 30 sadhus tested coronavirus positive in five days.

The mega congregation in the middle of a pandemic has drawn flak for the BJP government. Supporters of the party, however, have shared a video to portray that Haridwar has not witnessed mass gatherings and a false perception is being built against the Hindu festival.

Social media in charge of BJP Mahila Morcha Priti Gandhi tweeted the video shot from a flyover that shows empty ghats. The flyover also does not have a lot of vehicles. “Entire propaganda about the #KumbhMela being a #SuperSpreader of #COVID19 is falling flat on its face,” she wrote.

BJP supporter Rishi Bagree also shared the video.

It is widespread on Facebook.

Alt News has received several verification requests for the video on its official mobile application and WhatsApp helpline number.

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Fact-check

Upon watching the video frame-by-frame, hoardings of two hotels – Hotel Ganga View and Hotel Ganges Park – are visible.

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We have compared Hotel Ganga View visible in the video with a photo of the hotel on Google Maps.

Both the hotels are close to Haridwar’s Govind Ghat.

We contacted Hotel Ganges Park and spoke with Pradeep Chauhan. “This video has been recorded from the flyover in front of our hotel. This is Shri Govind Ghat. The video does not show any crowds maybe because it was recorded in the afternoon. The holy dip is taken in the morning and most people go to Har Ki Pauri. Only a few people come to Govind Ghat in the morning for the holy dip and aarti and return in the evening again for aarti. The ghats do not see a lot of people in the afternoon,” he said.

Google Maps show a flyover in front of Hotel Ganges Park.

We also spoke to a Haridwar resident who reiterated that the video shows Govind Ghat. “It would be wrong to suggest there is no crowd in Haridwar. While fewer people have gathered this year compared to previous years, there are still large crowds. The flyover was shut down for safety reasons. Parking arrangements have been made for large vehicles before the flyover starts. People reach Har Ki Pauri on foot or via e-rickshaws after parking their cars. I think the video must have been shot in the afternoon. The time for the holy dip is four in the morning and the crowd starts dispersing by the afternoon. People gather again in the evening for aarti. Loudspeakers announce the time for taking a dip in the water in different akharas and common people are not allowed to stay in a ghat for more than 15-20 minutes,” he said.

A local journalist from Haridwar informed that the video may have been shot when most pilgrims were at Har Ki Pauri for the evening aarti that starts at 6 pm. The journalist also said that Govind Ghat does not witness crowds as large as Har Ki Pauri. “Mostly locals visit Govind Ghat while the tourists visit Har Ki Pauri. And this time due to COVID-19 the crowd is comparatively less,” the journalist added. We were also informed that the flyover from where the video was taken is empty because it is a zero zone where only officials and media persons are allowed. Common citizens are not allowed to travel between 5 am to 6 pm as the roads are exclusively reserved for 13 akharas.

The distance between Govind Ghat and Har Ki Pauri is about 6-7 km.

It is noteworthy that the viral video began circulating on April 15. The first holy dip (Shahi Snan) was held on March 11 on the occasion of Shivaratri. The second and third took place on April 12 and April 14 respectively. It is possible that the video was shot on April 14.

Kumbh Mela – Ground reality

Shahi Snan was observed on April 14 on the occasion of Baisakhi. Doordarshan telecasted a 7-hour-long broadcast from Haridwar where devotees and sadhus can be seen gathered at Har Ki Pauri.

Kumbh police had tweeted pictures of Shahi Snan on April 14 where a large number of people can be spotted.

Swami Avdeshanad had also shared pictures that show a sea of devotees.

A video shot when Govind Ghat did not witness large gatherings was shared to falsely suggest that Hardiwar is not crowded for Kumbh Mela during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are enough ground reports to debunk the viral claim. Furthermore, the video was shot 6-7 km away from Har Ki Pauri, which is the main pilgrim attraction.

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