A top Kumbh Mela official Saturday said it was unfair to call it a Covid "super-spreader" as just 0.2 per cent of the total RT-PCR tests conducted in Haridwar from January 1 till the conclusion of the event returned a positive result, while just 0.5 per cent police personnel on mela duty contracted the virus.
Mela Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal also said the religious event formally began on April 1 by which time the second wave of Covid was already raging in states like Maharashtra and Haryana.
"If we scientifically analyse the Covid data of Haridwar district right from January 1 to the conclusion of Kumbh on April 30, attempts to create a perception that Kumbh was a super-spreader of the pandemic look unfair," Gunjyal said.
He was in charge of the entire security arrangements in Haridwar and adjoining areas during the Kumbh mela.
Reeling off data to make his point, the senior official said 8.91 lakh RT-PCR tests were conducted in the district from January 1 to April 30 out of which only 1,954 (0.2 per cent) were positive.
Citing another reason why the Kumbh Mela cannot be considered a super-spreader event, he said out of over 16,000 police personnel deployed in the Kumbh Mela Kshetra only 88 (or just a little above 0.5 per cent) had tested positive for Covid by April 30.
"It is a fact worth taking note of as the security personnel on duty were directly dealing with the crowds converging at Har ki Pairi and other Ganga ghats for a holy dip in the river. In spite of that, a very low percentage of security personnel tested positive," Gunjyal said.
During the noitified period of Kumbh from April 1-April 30, swab samples of 55,55,893 people were tested for Covid out of which 17,333 tested positive, he said.
The Kumbh Mela, which is attended by people from different parts of the country in large numbers, drew flak from various quarters as the number of COVID-19 cases rose at a rapid pace during the days coinciding with the event.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on April 17 appealed that the event in Haridwar be kept symbolic then on due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Mela IG Sanjay Gunjyal said that devotees had begun to arrive for the event from March itself, and Mahashivratri also witnessed a big turnout of devotees.
However, by April 1 Haridwar district had reported only 144 positive cases of COVID-19, he said.
Gunjyal also denied making a downward revision of the number of people attending Kumbh Mela on the three major bathing days or Shahi Snan.
The three Shahi Snan days fell during the notified period of the one-month Kumbh this year during which over 34.76 lakh people took a holy dip in the river, he said.
As many as 21 lakh people bathed in the river on April 12 on Somwati Amavasya, 13.51 lakh on Mesh Sankranti on April 14 and 25,104 people on Chaitra Purnima on April 27, he said.
These figures have never been revised or changed, the IG said.
When told that an official release quoting Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat had put the number of people bathing in the river on April 12 at 35 lakh, the officer said he may have given the total number of devotees gathering at the ghats from April 1 to April 12.