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HP: God, deities to remain in 'lockdown' for now

Shimla: Even the government has decided to reopen businesses, including restaurants and hotels and let devotees visit temples from Monday, Himachal Pradesh will be an exception.

Most famous temples in Himachal Pradesh –which attract lakhs of pilgrims every year, will not open to the public, though the state government has already framed standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Deputy Commissioner Kangra Rakesh Prajapati said "we are in no hurry to open the temples to the public. We will take a call at appropriate time once all precautions are put in place and staff at the temples are fully trained for implementation of the guidelines."

Kangra –state's largest district has famous temples of Jawalamukhi, Brijeshwari, Chaumanda and Bagalamukhi temple at borders with Una.Besides this, the district has Buddhist monasteries and temple of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama. The Central government has allowed opening of the religious places from June 8–the first phase of Unlock 1.0–and SOPs in this regard were also issued.

Most temples and shrines in the state were closed for the public on March 17 – before the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Same day entry of the tourists in the state was also stopped to curb spread of the Coronavirus.

As most of the temples in the state are manned by trusts, which work directly under the Deputy Commissioners, the state government has asked the DCs to take their own decisions as how to regulate the pilgrims.

Initially the state government had announced that the temples will be opened only to the locals to pay their obeisances but no outsider will be allowed to visit the temples, offer "prashad" to the deities.Even the priests were advised not to sprinkle any holy water on the visiting devotees.

However, now the DCs have taken a decision that the temples will remain closed.

"Once we open the access of the public to the temples, it will be difficult to differentiate between the locals and those reaching the temples from outside as lot of people have already come to their homes from outside during the lockdown," said a Deputy Commissioner. Besides, Kangra, Una, Hamirpur and Bilaspur districts have famous temples and shrines where the pilgrims from all over the country especially Haryana, Punjab and UP visit every year.

Prajapati said "soon we will be conducting training of staff, priests, guards and shopkeepers around the temples for implementation of SOPs."

Reports said the local traders and the priests have also consented to district administration's decision to maintain safety and help the administration to curb the spread of the virus.

Earlier, the hotel associations had also taken a decision not to start commercial operations as some states were grappling with the COVID 19 threat and arrival of the tourists from outside will pose the risk.

"We also need to take precautions and train the staff for which the hoteliers have already put forward some issues to the government before we begin operations in next two three months," said Sanjay Sood, Shimla Hotels and Restaurants Association.

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