The Delhi government will be sending elderly pilgrims for Jagannath Puri Yatra in Odisha under its free pilgrimage scheme, officials said on Sunday.
The general public was not allowed to take part in the Rath Yatra in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, but the restrictions were later lifted. This year, the yatra kicked off on July 1.
According to government officials, two trains under the ‘Mukhyamantri Tirth Yatra Yojna’ carrying the elderly pilgrims will leave for the yatra on July 11 and July 28.
Kamal Bansal, chairman of the Delhi government's Tirth Yatra Vikas Samiti, said, "The Jagannath Puri Yatra is very popular. On the instructions of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, free pilgrimage is being provided to senior citizens and now they will get an opportunity to visit the historic yatra. In the month of July, especially two trains will leave for the yatra."
The scheme was introduced in July 2019, but it was suspended due to the pandemic. It resumed last December after nearly 23 months. However, the scheme was disrupted again in the first week of January this year due to the third wave of Covid-19 driven by the Omicron variant and resumed on February 14 with the flagging off of a Dwarka-Somnath train.
Meanwhile, the step to offer the senior citizens free pilgrimage to Velankanni Church in Tamil Nadu, under the scheme, has received a dull response. Last November, Kejriwal announced the addition of the popular church to the list of pilgrimage sites under the Mukhyamantri Tirth Yatra Yojana.
Officials close to the development said there have been fewer applications in this regard. "We have only received 500-600 applications ever since the scheme resumed following a disruption due to the third wave of coronavirus in January this year. There need to be at least 1,000 applicants for the pilgrimage," they said.
Overall, 63,077 beneficiaries have availed of the scheme under which the government fully sponsors the pilgrimages to people aged 60 years and above on 15 routes. The government pays for travel, accommodation, and other expenses of each pilgrim, who can also take along an attendant with them. Each train carries nearly 1,000 people.