Amarnath Yatra begins tomorrow amid massive security

Amarnath Yatra begins tomorrow amid massive security

A paramilitary soldier stands guard as the first batch of pilgrims leave for Amarnath Yatra, in Jammu on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

Amid the spurt in violence and increase in cross-border infiltration, ‘biggest ever’ security arrangements have been made to secure the routes leading to the 3888-metre-high Amarnath cave shrine in South Kashmir.

The nearly two-month long annual pilgrimage would begin simultaneously on Pahalgam and Baltal routes from June 28 and conclude on Shravan Purnima and Raksha Bandhan festivals on August 25.

However, the first batch of 1,138 pilgrims left on Wednesday morning from Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu for Pahalgam and Baltal base camps in Kashmir where from they will proceed for onward journey to the cave shrine. The first batch will reach the two base camps by Wednesday evening.

So far, over 2 lakh pilgrims have registered for the annual pilgrimage. On July 10 last year, at least nine pilgrims were killed and 19 others injured in an audacious attack on a bus carrying pilgrims in Anantnag district.

Keeping in view the security threat this year, security forces have been given specific responsibility to sanitise routes and secure a select number of pilgrim vehicles by sandwiching them between bullet-proof troop carriers.

With militant activities on the rise, sources told DH that vehicles tagged with electromagnetic chips, bike and bullet-proof SUV police convoys, scores of bullet-proof bunkers and drones have been deployed as part of the security blanket to secure pilgrims this year.

“Though drones were used for surveillance along the national highway and around base camps last year, this time their numbers have been increased after the heightened threat from militants. A posse of over 40,000 paramilitary and state police personnel would provide security for the pilgrims at all other places falling along the yatra routes,” they said.

“The army would be deployed at the icy heights of holy cave shrine and some places on the twin tracks of Baltal and Chandanwari. The army would also man sensitive points on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and the roads leading from Highway to Nunwan, Pahalgam and Baltal,” sources added.

Though militants on Tuesday claimed that they have never targeted the yatris nor will they do, security agencies are taking no chances and this year drones would be used to monitor the entire pilgrimage route. “Drones will hover over the entire trek round the clock and beam pictures back to the control rooms to ensure the safety of pilgrims,” sources said.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo, in an audio message circulated on social media on Tuesday, said, “The claims of director general of police that we are intending to attack Amarnath yatra are baseless. We have nothing to do with the Amarnath pilgrims. They come here to perform their religious duty.”

“Our war is not against yatris. We are fighting for our rights and against those who forced us to take up arms. The Government of India has always tried to create an impression that there was ‘terrorism’ in Kashmir and for this reason they propagated through media that Amarnath pilgrimage was not safe,” he claimed.

However, a senior police officer said following threat assessments security agencies have said that the yatra was a target for militants.

Every year, lakhs of devotees go on a pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave to see a stalagmite formed inside, said to be a symbol of Lord Shiva. The yatra has traditionally symbolised the inter-faith harmony for the last one and a half century as local Muslims have been receiving Hindu pilgrims with love and extending every possible help to make the pilgrimage a success.