Manoj Sinha, Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor, on Friday flagged off the first batch of 3,488 pilgrims for the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas 13,500 feet above sea level. Tens of thousands of pilgrims undertake the arduous pilgrimage to one of the most revered Hindu shrines annually.
Paramilitary forces escorted a convoy of 159 vehicles carrying the first batch of pilgrims chanting “Bam Bam Bhole” and “Har Har Mahadev” to the shrine via the Pahalgam and Baltal routes.
Helmets provided free of cost to the pilgrims have been mandatory for the stretches en route vulnerable to shooting stones and landslides. As many as 34 rescue teams have also been deployed along the shrine route. At least 15 pilgrims were killed last year following a cloudburst at the cave shrine.
Over 3,00,000 pilgrims have so far registered for the annual pilgrimage from July 1 to August 31. Last year, 365000 pilgrims visited the holy shrine, the highest since 2016.
Pilgrims aged between 13 and 70 are eligible for the pilgrimage, subject to health certificates.
No unregistered pilgrims or tourists will be allowed beyond Chanderkote along the Jammu-Srinagar after 1pm until the completion of the pilgrimage.
Divisional commissioner Ramesh Kumar Jangid said security forces conducted a mock drill ahead of the pilgrimage with northern Army command chief Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi regularly reviewing the arrangements for the pilgrimage. “A multi-layered security grid has been put in place for the security of the pilgrims up to the holy cave shrine,” said a home department official.
The arrangements include domination through night vision devices, snipers, drone systems, bomb disposal squads, dog squads, counter explosives equipment, vehicle repair, and recovery teams.
The annual pilgrimage was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, it was curtailed ahead of the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status.
Escort vehicle veers off road, DSP among 4 injured
A deputy superintendent of police (DSP) was among four persons injured when an escort vehicle, part of the Amarnath security convoy, veered off the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in Samroli of Udhampur district on Friday morning.
Udhampur SSP Vinod Kumar said, “DSP and three others were injured after an Amarnath security convoy vehicle met with an accident near Bali Nallah on Jammu-Srinagar national highway. Injured people have been shifted to the district hospital, Udhampur, for treatment”.
Samba admn busts fake registration racket
Jammu and Kashmir administration on Thursday busted a racket for issuing fake registration slips to Amarnath pilgrims when two buses carrying devotees from Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh reached here, an official said.
When the bus carrying 68 pilgrims arrived at Shri Chichi Mata Mandir, Samba, for e-KYC verification and issuance of RFID cards, the fraud came to light, he added.
On verification, it was found that the yatra permits of most of the pilgrims were tampered with, he said.
On further inquiry from the pilgrims and drivers, it was revealed that these passengers got permits in exchange for ₹7,000 per head from Rahul Bhardwaj, an agent of Vikas Bus Services operating from Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Police took cognizance of the incident.
Consequently, an FIR under sections 420 (cheating) and 468 (forgery) of the Indian Penal Code was registered at Samba police station.