With flash floods, incessant rains and frequent landslides blocking the Jammu-Srinagar Highway playing spoilsport the target of 8 lakh pilgrims visiting the cave shrine of Amarnath in the Kashmir Valley is unlikely to be achieved. Only nine days are left for the culmination of the 43-day pilgrimage on 11 August, but hardly 2.85 lakh pilgrims have so far visited the shrine.
The number of pilgrims leaving for the cave shrine from the base camp in Jammu is sharply dipping by the day.
The pilgrimage started on 30 June with more than 8,000 pilgrims reaching the shrine, but the number of pilgrims proceeding to Kashmir from here on Tuesday morning was just 570.
Having been suspended for almost three years because of Covid-19 pandemic and abrogation of the Article 370 in August 2019, the authorities were expecting footfall of at least 8 lakh pilgrims. However, the cloudburst on 8 July that left 16 pilgrims dead and several others wounded and a subsequent flash flood were also responsible for the less number of pilgrims visiting the shrine.
Convoys of pilgrims leaving Jammu early in the morning were several times stranded mid-way on the highway because of landslides, shooting stones and mudslides due to heavy rains. More than 3.42 pilgrims visited the shrine in 2019 but the pilgrimage was abruptly stopped and yatris were easked to leave J&K because of security reasons following abrogation of Article 370. In 2018, 2.85 pilgrims visited and the figure touched 2.60 lakh in 2017, according to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).
Top officers had estimated that 6 to 8 lakh pilgrims would be performing the yatra this year.
Union Information and Broadcasting Secretary Apurva Chand, after meeting senior officers
of J&K Administration in Srinagar in April, had said that the pilgrimage will be one of the biggest in the history of J&K.
The SASB and the UT administration had increased the boarding and lodging capacity in Jammu, Ramban and Srinagar to accommodate the expected number of pilgrims. Security arrangements were accordingly stepped up.