The surge in COVID-19 infections has put a brake on the Delhi government’s Mukhya Mantri Tirth Yatra Yojna under which the elderly are taken to various religious sites, with a train scheduled to leave for the Velankani church in Tamil Nadu on Friday having been cancelled, officials said.
Eleven train trips that were planned in January have been affected due to the pandemic. The train to Velankani on January 7 stands cancelled, said Kamal Bansal, chairman of Tirth Yatra Vikas Samiti.
“Further, trains of pilgrims, including those for Kartarpur Sahib route as well as Amritsar, Ayodhya and Rameshwaram later this month, have also been cancelled,” Bansal said.
“The decision to suspend the scheme for the time being has been taken due to rising number of Covid across the country. It will restart when the conditions are suitable,” said a senior Delhi government officer.
Under the Mukhya Mantri Tirth Yatra Yojna, people aged 60 years and above are sent on pilgrimage on 15 routes fully sponsored by the Delhi government. The government pays for travel, accommodation and other expenses of each pilgrim who can also take along an attendant with them.
The scheme, halted due to the second wave of COVID-19 last year, was resumed with a train of pilgrims leaving for Ayodhya on December 3. Pilgrims also went to Rameshwaram and Dwarka before the pandemic acted as a brake on the scheme.
The scheme launched in July 2019 has been a “big hit” among Delhi’s senior citizens, particularly women, that is evident from around 25,000 pending applications under it, Bansal said.
In order to clear the backlog of applicants, 11 trains each for different pilgrim places were planned in January, February and March. However, now the whole plan is disrupted, he said.
Under the scheme, the Delhi government sanctioned Rs 81.45 crore of which Rs 66.92 crore were spent in 2020-21. So far nearly 38,000 senior citizens benefitted from the scheme, the government told the Delhi Assembly session.
The applicants under the scheme require a certificate of residence from their MLA concerned. There is no cap on the income of the applicants under the scheme.