SRINAGAR Nearly 400 kilometre long Hindu pilgrim march, called Amarnath Yatra, to a cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas began Sunday from Jammu amid massive security cover. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims, many in saffron robes from all across India descend on strife torn Kashmir Valley for the yatra with a complete government backing and arrangements in place.
The 45-day long yatra will officially commence from Monday and conclude on August 15 coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival.
The first batch of pilgrims, including 1,051 bound for the North Kashmir Baltal base camp and 1,183 to the South Kashmirs Pahalgam base camp left in security escorted convoys from Jammu a day ahead on Sunday morning. All civilian traffic is barred from opposite direction on the Jammu-Srinagar highway in order to ensure that the pilgrims cross the Jawahar Tunnel without any delay, officials said. 3 kilometre long Jawahar or Banihal Tunnel connects Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of the Lidder Valley, Amarnath cave stands at 3,888 mtrs. and is 363 kms. from Jammu Via Pahalgam and about 414 kms. from Jammu Via Baltal
Extraordinary security arrangements have been made all along the routes to ensure a smooth, violence-free Amarnath Yatra this year.
During his visit to Kashmir last week, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah reviewed the security arrangements and visited the base camps.
Situated at 3,888 metres above sea-level, the Amarnath cave houses an ice stalagmite structure that devotees believe symbolises the mythical powers of lord Shiva.
Tight security arrangements have been put in place for the yatra with close to 60,000 personnel deployed on Baltal as well as Pahalgam routes.
“The Yatra is a big event for us. A detailed security plan has been made for it,” said Ravideep Sahai, IG, CRPF. “The Indian Army, BSF, Police and CRPF have combined for the security arrangements which have been put in place. We will provide vigil day and night to ensure that pilgrims face no trouble or threat.”
Centre has provided for a multi-layered security cover for the Yatra this year. An additional 40,000 personnel have been deployed. The help of technology has also been taken to ensure convenience and safety. “Technology plays a very important role and we have upgraded our technology. Vehicles have been fitted with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. This will help us know the exact position of pilgrims. We have also made use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as CCTVs to keep a better check by monitoring the live feed from them,” said Sahai.
Apart from security-related challenges, there are also challenges posed by the weather. The Met department has brought in ‘Customised Weather Update’ technology to keep pilgrims updated on possible changes in weather patterns.They will get updates every three hours at every camp along the routes. Since heavy rains could make an impact over the course of the Yatra, more of such automatic weather monitoring systems have been put into place. “Monsoon is at its peak during the months of July and August. Like each year, we will be keeping a close watch on the weather pattern and ensure people get timely updates,” said Sonam Lotas of the Met department.
Security forces too are ready to assist pilgrims in case of any weather-related emergency. “Whenever there is a security plan, it includes plans in case of disaster. We have also kept our Mountain Rescue Team on standby and are stationed at various points along the route. They will be deployed quickly in case of any emergency,” said Sahai.
Apart from these measures, there are a number of marked places along the routes where pilgrims can eat and take rest.
Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police Dilbag Singh visited base camps of Baltal, Manigam and starting point at Dumail in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district to oversee the security arrangements put in place at these important points, a police spokesman said.
Singh reviewed the security and communication arrangements on the yatra route and the helipad. The DGP took stock of access control at these places and held a meeting with the officers in joint police control room at Baltal, he said.
Guv Malik lauds role of Muslims in smooth conduct of Amarnath Yatra
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik Sunday lauded the role of local Muslims in ensuring the smooth conduct of the Amarnath Yatra over the years and expressed hope that the pilgrimage will be successful this year too.
Malik said while the government looks after the security aspect of the annual pilgrimage, it is conducted with the support of the locals.
“The security for the yatra is our responsibility and we are taking care of it. But police or Army do not conduct the yatra. For many years, the Amarnath Yatra is being conducted by the people of Kashmir, especially our Muslim brothers. The yatra takes place with their support,” he told reporters here.
“If all of us work together, it will be successful,” he added.
The 46-day annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Lord Shiva in south Kashmir Himalayas will commence on Monday and conclude on August 15.
Asked whether the Centre’s Kashmir policy will see a change with Amit Shah being appointed as the Union home minister, Malik said he had not seen anything of that sort yet.
“I am not seeing anything like that yet, but Amit Shah’s leadership is a very successful leadership and whatever work he has undertaken, he has been successful in it,” he said.
Vehicle Carrying Yatris Seized On Mugal Road For Defying Govt Order
A private vehicle carrying 14 Amarnath Yatra pilgrims to Kashmir via Mughal road in violation of a government order was on Sunday seized in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, police said.
District Development Commissioner, Poonch, Rahul Yadav has ordered that no vehicle carrying Amarnath pilgrims will be allowed via Mughal road and warned stern action against defaulters.
Mughal road is an alternate link connecting the twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri with south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
A Kashmir-bound tempo traveller, carrying the pilgrims, was intercepted in Surankote area and was seized for violating orders, a police official said.
He said the tempo driver, Ashok Kumar of Jammu, was arrested and a case under relevant sections of law was registered against him.