A video shot from a moving car showing empty streets and unoccupied ghats along the river Ganga is viral with a misleading claim that there was no crowd in the city on the occasion of the third Shahi Snan (royal bath) on April 14, 2021.
Har Ki Pauri is one of the most sacred ghats in Haridwar where devotees prefer to take a dip in Ganga. BOOM found that the viral video was shot a few kilometres before reaching Har Ki Pauri, along the same stretch of the river. We spoke to a local journalist and watched live feeds broadcast on television channels and found the claim to be misleading.
The Kumbh Mela being held in Haridwar from March 11 this year is at the centre of controversy amid the second wave of Coronavirus pandemic. With an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases - India reporting an all time high of 200,739 in last 24 hours - a religious congregation of this level has drawn widespread criticism on social media.
The four Shahi Snans (royal bath), major attraction of the religious gathering, are touted to attract the strongest crowds. According to news reports, the third Shahi Snan - on April 14 - had seen the lowest footfall among the three snans that have been conducted till now. The fourth snan will be held on April 27, three days ahead of the end of this year's Kumbh mela.
Meanwhile, amid increasing COVID-19 cases, a video from Haridwar is viral on social media with a claim that the city is witnessing no such crowd as claimed by media channels.
The viral video shot from a car shows visuals of empty roads and unoccupied banks along the Ganga. A conversation between two people suggest that the banks are unoccupied and the roads are deserted as no one has turned up for the Kumbh Mela. At one point in the video, one person asks the other, "What is the date today?". April 14, comes the reply. The other person then goes on to say that a crowd of 25 lakh people had been predicted for April 14 but not even 2500 came to the city.
The video has been tweeted by National in-charge of social media - BJP Mahila Morcha Priti Gandhi with a caption 'Entire propaganda about the #KumbhMela being a #SuperSpreader of #COVID19 is falling flat on its face. Do watch this video to see the REAL SITUATION on ground in Haridwar'.
The same video was tweeted by Rishi Bagree with a caption 'The truth of #KumbhMela2021'.
A Hindi caption with the viral video shared on Facebook translates to 'And they are spreading rumour that there's a heavy crowd at Kumbh and no one is maintaining distance'.
(Hindi: और यहाँ ये दुष्प्रचार किया जा रहा है कि कुम्भ मे भीड़ है और कोई distance maintain नहीं कर रहा)
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BOOM also received the same video on its helpline number. The video has a Hindi caption written over it which translates to '14 April 2021: Kumh Haridwar Left wing and Jihadi media is playing with the religious sentiments of Hindus and spreading rumours against them'.
BOOM watched the video closely. At one point in the clip, a hotel Ganges Park can be seen.
We called the hotel to find its exact location in Haridwar. While speaking to us, Manish Mallick who has taken the hotel on lease, told us that it was located in Govindpuri area of Haridwar.
"Yes, the video is recorded on the flyover in front of our hotel. This video has been recorded in the evening and the bathing begins post midnight. So by evening the crowd thins and Har Ki Pauri is opened for the common public after 5 pm. People take bath in the morning and leave. This video must have been recorded after 3 pm. Most people leave by then or go to Har Ki Pauri for evening aarti (rituals)," Manish Mallick told BOOM.
Since Har Ki Pauri is the most important bathing ghats in Haridwar, most of the festivities of the Kumbh Mela, including Ganga aarti takes place here. General public can take a dip in Ganga at Har Ki Pauri before 7 am. After that, the area is cordoned off and only members of the akharas are allowed to bathe here. The area is thrown open to common public again after 5 pm.
Mallick also told us that since the Har Ki Pauri is opened for public in the evening, most of the people taking a dip in the dusk prefer going to that area of the city. He added that since vehicles from outside are not being allowed in the city, that explains the empty streets.
We checked the location of Hotel Ganges Park on Google Map and found an elevated road on the other side of the hotel from where the video might have been shot.
While Mallick told BOOM that his hotel is around 2.5 to 3 km from Har Ki Pauri, Google Maps show two routes from the hotel to Har Ki Pauri - one 5.3 km and the other 6.6 km.
BOOM also spoke to a local journalist MS Nawaz from Haridwar who told us that the bathing ghats seen in the video are Prem Nagar Ashram and Govindpuri Ghat.
Nawaz also told BOOM that Har ki Pauri is the main bathing ghat where people flock in huge numbers. "During Kumbh, the area is opened to general public before 7 am and after 5 pm. Between 7 am and 5 pm, the sadhus from akharas take bath in the Ganga at Har Ki Pauri," Nawaz added.
Nawaz also provided us videos from Har Ki Pauri that he had recorded on April 14 which show huge crowd of devotees taking a dip in the river.
BOOM also checked news reports to confirm the footfall at the Kumbh mela on April 14.
A 7-hour-long live feed on Doordarshan National's YouTube channel uploaded on April 14, 2021 shows a heavy crowd of people thronging the streets and bathing at the ghats in Haridwar.
The video under the headline LIVE : Maha Kumbh : Shahi Snan - Maish Sankranti - Haridwar - 14th April 2021 can be viewed below.
A report published in Times of India states around 14 lakh devotees participated in the third Shahi Snan on April 14.
Another report in ABP live published on April 15 states 'A majority of the 48.51 lakh people who took part in the last two 'royal baths' (shahi snan) held on the occasion of Somwati Amavasya on April 12 and Mesh Sankranti on April 14 were seen openly violating COVID norms'.
BOOM was also able to obtain videos from other bathing ghats in Haridwar where fairly big crowds can be seen taking the dip.
We also tried reaching to Haridwar administration to get an exact number of devotees who participated in the royal bath on April 14 but did not receive a response.