Rain, snow put brakes on Amarnath yatra on Day 1
Over 3,500 Amarnath-bound pilgrims were stranded at Pahalgam, the base camp of the pilgrimage, after an overnight snowfall, rain and landslides forced authorities to suspend the yatra on the very first day.
Governor Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha, who heads the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), also could not take off for his maiden darshan at the cave owing to inclement weather, sources said.
“Given the history that slight change in temperature kills people over the heights, we cannot take chances,” a senior officer posted in Pahalgam said. “We have adequate capacity to manage the stranded till the weather clears.”
An unregulated influx coupled with avalanches and snow storms triggered by massive snowfall in August 1996 killed 243 pilgrims. Since then authorities have been cautiously following the recommendations made by a committee to probe the tragedy.
Since the infrastructure has increased and treks widened, SASB is now permitting a larger number. Expectations stand that over four lakh pilgrims would pray at the hill-shrine cave before the ice lingam melts by early August.
Being organised by SASB, Amarnath pilgrimage is a huge capital-intensive exercise for the J&K government.
Apart from thousands of troops dominating the heights and state police and paramilitary personnel posted to escort and secure the entire pilgrimage, there are over 1,500 state government employees deputed to offer a variety of services from rations to water.
Since the pilgrimage was targeted many times by militants, the security angle has emerged the most number-intensive task with personnel from internal security duties being diverted for over three months. Convoys of pilgrimage reach Pahalgam and Baltal — the two treks to the cave — under tight guard from Jammu.
Unlike the 16-km trek from Baltal that takes barely a full day, the traditional Pahalgam route is over 40-km long and covered in four days.
With more and more people arriving to pray over the fragile heights, the pilgrimage has created concerns on the ecological front.
A pollution assessment study carried out by state-run Pollution Control Board in ’05 highlighted the lack of capacity in Pahalgam and failure in proper expenditure by the SASB and the government in managing the waste and pollution.
It said the indiscriminate and unscientific management of huge solid, organic and inorganic waste produced by the floating population affects the river water and ground water.
SASB, this year, has set up 1,600 pre-fabricated toilets and 100 temporary pre-fabricated huts in order to display that it cares about nature too. However, it landed in other controversies.
While it charged a good amount for registering people as temporary “shopkeepers” en route and other service providers, the Board allegedly prevented access of many such people who were granted permission by the government.
Since these people — mostly from Kangan and Pahalgam — have remained associated with the pilgrimage for ages, the restrictions have triggered fierce reactions for the first time.