Despite employing the "highest-ever multi-tier security setup" to guard pilgrims on the Amarnath Yatra, which included a satellite tracking system, bullet-proof bunkers, dog squads, mobile bunker vehicles and road opening parties along the route, seven pilgrims were killed while several others were injured after militants attacked a yatri bus on Monday evening.
The bus, which came under the dastardly terror attack, was from Gujarat, News18.com reported. The bus – bearing registration number GJ 09 Z 9976 – was registered in North Gujarat's Sabarkantha district, but the owner had sold the bus to one Jawahar Desai of Valsad of Gujarat, the report said. It was attacked around 8.20 pm near Khannabal when it was on its way from Srinagar to Jammu, police said.
According to The Indian Express, the bus was travelling independently and was not part of the yatra convoy, which is escorted by armed personnel. "The operator had not made the mandatory registration with the Amarnath Yatra board and so it was not part of the convoy of Amarnath yatris with security cover. It may have taken a different route as it was operating independently," the report quoted a member of the tour bus operators' association as saying.
For a devotee's yatra to be escorted, one has to first come to the Jammu base camp, from where security forces travel along with the pilgrims' vehicles. The yatra begins from Jammu at around 3 am. So far, around 40,000 people have commenced their journeys from Jammu. But over a lakh have already visited the shrine this year. The numbers do not match as many visit the shrine directly without going to the base camp. All such pilgrims are unescorted. The Gujarat bus, too, was one of these.
A detailed list of guidelines issued by the Jammu and Kashmir Police presents do's and don'ts for the pilgrims to follow while on their pilgrimage, in an attempt to prevent incidents like the one that took place on Monday night.
The list, which covers a range of issues from physical fitness to safety measures, asks pilgrims to register a month before the date of commencement of their pilgrimage.
It also asks people to embark on the journey only after obtaining a valid Yatra Permit after due registration as per the procedure prescribed by the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB). The Yatra Permit and valid identification papers need to be carried by pilgrims at all times, the guidelines say.
The bus which came under attack on Monday was neither registered with the shrine board nor had it adhered to the security detail which is compulsory for the pilgrims in view of the terror threat.
The list asks devotees to also "make sure that the ponywalla, the labourer, the dandiwalla are properly registered and carry a valid ID Card". Among the don'ts, the state police requests pilgrims to not take shortcuts on the route, "as doing so would be dangerous".
The yatra buses carrying pilgrims are also banned from travelling after 7 pm in the evening. NDTV reported that the bus attacked on Monday had been delayed because of a breakdown, and hence had to travel beyond the permitted time.
The Amarnath Yatra attracts millions of people every year who visit the site during the Shravani Mela in July-August – the only period in the year when the Amarnath cave is accessible. The 40-day yatra this year began on 28 June.
Devotees begin their journey from Srinagar or Pahalgam in Jammu and Kashmir on foot and take one of the two possible routes. The shorter but steeper trek via Baltal, Domial, Barari and Sangam is 14 km long and allows people to take a round trip in one or two days. This route, however, is mostly taken by people on their way back from the cave.
The longer and second route via Pahalgam is generally preferred by most pilgrims. The trek usually takes three to five days one way. This Amarnath route is much wider than the Baltal trek and slopes gradually but is, as a consequence, more crowded. Security cover on both the routes was beefed up heavily during this pilgrimage season.
So far, no terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack, however, media reports pointed out that security forces suspect the operation was carried out jointly by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.
The authorities, as a precautionary measure, also suspended internet and broadband services in the Jammu region to curtail the spread of rumours.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jul 11, 2017 14:08:20 IST