SRINAGAR Amid multi-tier security cover, the first batch of 3000 pilgrims for the annual Amarnath Yatra left from Jammu's Bhagwati Nagar base camp on Wednesday.
Vehicles tagged with electromagnetic chips, bike and bullet-proof SUV police convoys and scores of bullet-proof bunkers have been deployed as part of the "biggest-ever" security blanket thrown to secure pilgrims.
Chants of "Bam Bam Bhole" and Bharat Mata ki Jai" filled the air as the enthusiastic pilgrims, including 520 women and 21 children, left the base camp in the wee hours. With over two lakh pilgrims having registered for the annual pilgrimage the administration and the security agencies say biggest-ever security blanket has been created to ensure smooth yatra.
Assuring that all security arrangements are in place, IG CRPF, Jammu Sector, Abhay Vir Chauhan said, We're using latest technology and vehicles. The manpower has been increased as compared to last year. There's no specific threat as such, but we're ready for any kind of attack.
A total of 2.60 lakh pilgrims offered prayers at the mountain shrine last year.
Considering the carrying capacity of the existing tracks and other available infrastructure in the pilgrimage area, the government controlled Shrine Board has decided to allow 7, 500 pilgrims on each route daily.
Estimated 40,000 armed CRPF and state police personnel have been deployed on the yatra routes from Jammu via Pahalgam and Baltal.
Apart from boots on ground, the security forces have also deployed a huge assortment of CCTV cameras and drones assisted by mounted Army columns.
The CRPF road clearing parties will keep sweeping yatra roads against possible improvised explosive device (IEDs) threats to yatra convoys from early morning till late evening, it was informed.
Pilgrims trek through treacherous mountain passes for their onward journey to the cave shrine situated at a height of 3,880 metres.
Inside the 40 m (130 ft) high Amarnath cave, a stalagmite is formed due to freezing of water drops that fall from the roof of the cave on to the floor and grows up vertically from the cave floor. It is considered to be a Shiva Linga by Hindus. The 60-day pilgrimage will conclude on August 26, coinciding with the festival of 'Raksha Bandhan'.
A day before the Yatra was flagged off, an audio clip, purportedly released by the Hizbul Mujahideen, had surfaced, assuring Amarnath pilgrims they have nothing to fear as long as they visit Kashmir only to fulfill their religious duties.Governor N. N. Vohra, who is Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board reviewed the status of arrival of first batch of Yatris. Umang Narula, Chief Executive Officer, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and Shri Bhupinder Kumar, Additional Chief Executive Officer, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board briefed the Governor during meeting.
Narula informed that first batch of Yatris left in two separate convoys for Baltal and Nunwan Base Camps to ease the movement of traffic. The Nunwan and Baltal bound convoys comprising of 113 vehicles and carrying 2995 Yatris left Jammu at 6:22 am. The Nunwan based convoy arrived at the destination at 6:25 pm, whereas the Baltal bound convoy crossed the Manigam transit camp at 6:20 pm and is likely to reach Baltal Base Camp by 9:30 pm. It is pertinent to mention that the number of Yatris who arrived at the Base Camps in convoys on a day before the commencement of Yatra -2017 was 2280.
Governor exhorted close monitoring of the movement of convoys and stressed on timely arrival of Yatris in the Base Camps in order to ensure that Yatris take adequate rest before they embark on the Yatra next morning.
Inspector General (IG) of CRPF, Jammu, A V Chauhan said there was no specific input about terrorists planning an attack on the yatra.
General threat is always there but there is no specific input, Chauhan told reporters. He said there was no need for the pilgrims to worry and people were welcome to join the pilgrimage.
We are fully prepared for the task. As the (security) force personnel, we will ensure the safety of the pilgrims, he said. This time, we have used special gadgets and new and better technology to further strengthen the security, Chauhan said listing the various security measures taken by the government to
More manpower has been deployed this year compared to the previous years, he added. The IG said radio frequency (RF) identification chips had been introduced this year to help track all Amarnath-bound vehicles.
He said the chips would also help guide any vehicles that may stray from the convoy and thereby prevent a repeat of last year's attack on a lone bus that left nine pilgrims dead.
Security Officials Brief Governor
Two top security officials called on Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra today and briefed him on the arrangements made for the annual pilgrimage.
"Muneer Ahmad Khan, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Home Guards, Security and Law and Order, called on the governor and briefed him about several important matters relating to security and law-and-order management. He particularly discussed the arrangements for the Amarnath Yatra," a Raj Bhawan spokesman said.
He added that the governor emphasised on the importance of regularly reviewing and effectively securing all the protected premises and vital installations and taking all the required steps to minimise collateral damage in case of a counter-terror operation during the yatra.
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