With the annual Amarnath Yatra beginning on Thursday, June 28, the two base camps in Nunwan (Pahalgam) and Baltal have been converted into a fortress. Security personnel are on high alert to avert any repeat of last year’s militant attack that left eight pilgrims dead and several injured in Anantnag.
On Monday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the Baltal base camp to review the security arrangements. She was accompanied by senior commanders of the Army.
The first batch of pilgrims will leave for Srinagar from Jammu on 27 June.
Police and CRPF personnel have been deployed in large numbers around the base camps. Security forces are this time taking no risk as a number of terrorists of various outfits were reportedly hiding in south Kashmir that will be the nerve center of the Amarnath Yatra.
More than 22,000 security force personnel have been deployed for the security of pilgrims.
Sitharaman was briefed about the three layer security arrangements on the two pilgrimage routes.
Paramilitary forces have been deployed in strength on the 400 km road route between Lakhanpur in the Kathua district of Jammu and the two base camps at Pahalgam (Anantnag) and Baltal (Ganderbal).
The first security checkpoint has been activated near the Langanbal bridge where police personnel check every vehicle entering or leaving Pahalgam, which serves as the base camp for the pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath.
Security personnel have been deployed on both sides of the Lidder stream to thwart any terror attack.
The next security barricade is adjacent to the Nunwan Base Camp where hi-tech gadgetry will be used to maintain strict vigil. CCTV cameras, metal detectors and X-ray machines have been installed to prevent smuggling in of contraband.
Militants, who had publicly assured of inflicting no harm on the devotees in the past, attacked a bus last year killing eight Amarnath pilgrims in Anantnag.
“We do not want to leave anything to chance. It was a misfortune that militants succeeded in targeting a bus last year but we are making all out efforts to ensure that it is a smooth sailing this year,” PTI quoted a senior police official as saying.
Several police, paramilitary and intelligence officers have set up base around Pahalgam.
“South Kashmir has been on the boil over the past year — both in terms of militancy-related incidents and law and order problems. We have formed a two-pronged strategy to ensure pilgrims are not affected by these kind of incidents,” the official said.
The pilgrims heading to Amarnath from both Pahalgam and Baltal routes will have a definite time frame to make it from one base camp to another. The Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine Board, which manages the annual pilgrimage, has issued a list of “dos and don’ts”.
In Srinagar, Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam issued a series of instructions to the administration to ensure hassle-free and smooth conduct of the Amarnath Yatra.
“Meteorological reports should begin forthwith from today and these would be sent to all concerned,” the chief secretary said.
He also stressed the need to ensure greater communication and coordination between the civil and police administration.
“Food safety is a top priority in the absence of which there can be health issues. Deputy commissioners will ensure food safety officers certify that arrangements are up-to-the-mark and that quality food is available during the yatra period,” said Subrahmanyam.
It is a four-day mountainous trek of 36 kms from Pahalgam to reach the cave shrine at the height of 12,756 ft. The trek from Baltal is about 14 km but the climb is steep on the route and pilgrims can return to the base camp the same day after “darshan” and prayers of the ice-lingam.
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat and Army commander of the Northern Command, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh last week separately reviewed the security arrangements for the Amarnath Yatra.
The security forces have eliminated seven terrorists, three of them Pakistani nationals, in south Kashmir in the last four days indicating presence of militants in the area.
An Army patrol was attacked by terrorists when the soldiers were trying to open a road leading to the pilgrimage base camp.
(With agency inputs)