Srinagar: The two-month annual Amarnath pilgrimage started in Kashmir on Saturday amid tight security arrangements including deployment of sniffer dogs by the Army and the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The Army has also put in place a number of quadcopters, night vision devices, anti-drone teams and bomb disposal quads to pre-empt and foil any attempt of a terror strike.
Officials said that the first batches of around 8,000 pilgrims set off for the holy cave shrine from the base camps of Nunwan (Pahalgam) and Baltal (Sonmarg) early in the morning on Saturday, 1 July. They said that all security and logistics related arrangements were in place for the pilgrims on both the tracks—48-km long Nunwan-Cave track and 14-km Baltal-Cave track.
While the Army, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Central Armed Police Forces have established security grids to ensure safety of every single pilgrim, a number of Central and the Union Territory government departments are looking after healthcare, telecommunication and other facilities. Each pilgrim has been properly registered and provided with a Radio Frequency Identity Device (RFID). Authorities have detected 300 fake registrations and filed FIR against the persons involved in this scam.
Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag Syed Fakhruddin Hamid told India Narrative that 5,400 pilgrims set off at the Nunwan base camp near Pahalgam. He said that the local Muslim population received and greeted the pilgrims all through the Yatra route with remarkable enthusiasm. Officials in Ganderbal said that around 2,600 pilgrims left for the holy cave from Baltal.
Amarnath Yatra was flagged off by the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at Bhagwati Nagar in Jammu on Friday. All the 3,488 reached their destinations of Nunwan and Baltal base camps by late in the evening.
The second batch of 4,416 pilgrims in 186 light motor vehicles left from Jammu early in the morning on Saturday. Of them, 2733 will reach Nunwan (Pahalgam) in 94 vehicles while as 1683 pilgrims are heading for Baltal in 92 vehicles.
The Army’s Sector-1 Rashtriya Rifles commander Brigadier Amandeep Malhi told mediapersons at Pahalgam that the best possible security bandobast had been made this year for a smooth and peaceful yatra. “We have used quadcopters and night vision devices for 24×7 surveillance en route to the cave shrine. Apart from the army, Central forces and police have been deployed on higher reaches. Every soldier has been briefed to ensure least inconvenience to locals during the Yatra period,” Brig. Malhi asserted.
The Sector Commander said that Mountain and Avalanche rescue teams had been deployed to meet any eventuality. “This year, quick and effective response teams will ensure fast evacuation in case of any natural calamity,” he said, adding that this year army along with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) conducted joint drills to ensure “timely response in case of any natural calamity.”
At another briefing at Baltal, Commander of Rashtriya Rifles Sector-3 Atul Rajput said that a multi-level security grid had been put in place for smooth conduct of the Amarnath Yatra.
“Surveillance devices, Night Vision Devices, anti-drone teams and bomb disposal squads have been deployed along the route leading to the cave shrine for round the clock surveillance. A proper tenting facility and emergency helipads are ready to evacuate the pilgrims in case of any emergency. Civil agencies, J&K police, CRPF, ITBP and other security agencies have already participated in the mock drills that include mountain and avalanche rescue,” Brig. Rajput said.
The Sector Commander said that in view of last year’s natural calamity, earth moving equipment had already been placed at the forward areas. “We are in constant contact with the locals as they are the main stakeholders and their suggestions are valuable. This Yatra is another best time to showcase Kashmiriyat. The army will ensure the safe return of the last pilgrim”, he asserted.
Even as over 3 lakh pilgrims have completed their registration process till date, authorities are expecting the arrival of more than 5 lakh pilgrims this year.