The ban ordered by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) on the movement of vehicles carrying foodstuffs for the “langars” (community kitchens) for the Amarnath pilgrims beyond the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway till June 21 has annoyed those engage every year in providing free food to the pilgrims.

Several political parties have also joined the protest against the “unjustified” order of the SASB headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik.

The langar associations, engaged for the past several years in providing free food to the pilgrims, are disappointed as the order of the SASB does not provide them ample time to set up the community kitchens on the two routes of the pilgrimage.

The 46-day long Amarnath pilgrimage will begin on 1 July and conclude on 15 August. The langar associations are worried that it might not be possible to reach their allocated destinations within nine days to properly set up the langars.

It is being alleged that such problems have cropped up as Malik was not taking much personal interest in making arrangements for the smooth conduct of the pilgrimage like his predecessor NN Vohra used to do.

The langar associations and various political parties have criticised the order of the SASB to allow the langar vehicles to cross the Jawahar Tunnel only after 21 June because of security reasons. It is being alleged that the order smacks of attempts to spoil the pilgrimage.

The Shri Amarnath Barfani Langars Organisation (SABLO), which is a non-profit, non-funded association of bhandara organisations, is engaged in rendering various services on both pilgrimage routes, Pahalgam and Baltal, including serving free food, providing blankets, setting up night shelters, medical camps, providing ambulance, public address system, information and various other facilities to the pilgrims.

Nearly 3 lakh pilgrims visited the cave shrine last year. The highest number of 3,52,771 pilgrims in the past few years was registered in 2015, but in 2016 the number dropped to 2,20,490 because of an incident of a terror attack at a bus of pilgrims and stone pelting at various places in the valley.

Despite incidents of miscreants attacking the langars on the Baltal side, the SABLO has every year been making arrangements for providing free food and shelter to pilgrims. Making such massive arrangements is neither possible for the SASB nor the J&K government without the participation of the private organisations and people from Punjab, New Delhi and other places.

Nearly 125 langar groups are engaged in the job every year. But unfortunately, it has become a routine practice by the authorities to create hurdles in the private langars reaching the base camps of the pilgrimage, say the langar associations.