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Low pilgrim turnout at Vaishno Devi leaves thousands jobless in Katra

Last Updated on May 10, 2021 at 6:52 pm

Many people whose livelihood was dependent upon Vaishno Devi pilgrimage are having difficulties in surviving this pandemic. Katra town’s businessmen would count in crores especially during days like Navratras but that seems like a distant dream now.

Varinder Kesar, Katra Head of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that earlier over 30,000 pilgrims would visit but now this number has been reduced to only three digits. This low turnout of visitors has negatively affected businesses in Katra leaving many people jobless.

He said that more than one lakh people ranging from horse and mule owners to the employees at big hotels have been unemployed as their incomes were directly dependent on visiting pilgrims at the cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji.

President of Katra Hotels and Restaurants Association, Rakesh Wazir said that while first wave of COVID-19 caused heavy losses to hotel industry, the second wave caused more harm comparatively. He said that hotel industry is incurring losses because they have to pay for power and water bills, salaries to employees and other expenses even though there are negligible customers.

He claimed that around 98 per cent of the hotels at Katra are closed and only rest of two per cent are working with minimum staff. Around 35,000 people who used to work in hotels, guest houses, restaurants and inns at Katra are unemployed now.

Sohan Singh, President of Horses & Mule and Pithoo Association Katra said that around 11,000 men including Pithoos (men who carry others on their back) and others who are associated with this kind of work have been left unemployed because of dismal number of pilgrims at the cave shrine.

He said that there are 4000 registered horses and mules for pilgrimage. Palkis which carry pilgrims are estimated to be around 500 engaging 2500 men. There are 4000 registered Pithoos in total but almost all of them don’t have any work. When lockdown was first announced last year then 300-400 horses died because their owners didn’t have money to feed them fodder costing Rs 400 daily.

Sources informed that pilgrims are allowed only if they present a RTPCR negative report for COVID-19 or are tested at railway station. Those pilgrims who visit by road are tested for COVID-19 at Lakhanpur and Vijaypur. There is also a facility of quarantine for those visitors who are found to be positive in these tests.