Amarnath Yatra attack: Pilgrims regularly violate security guidelines despite many warnings, say officials

The security forces are having a tough time regulating the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims as many violate the security guidelines and refuse to be escorted in the security convoy to make the pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine.

The militants attacked a bus carrying pilgrims on Monday evening which was on its way back from the shrine. The bus was not part of the security convoy and the militants came out of an alley in Batengoo, Anantang and launched an attack on the yatris who were killed in the firing.

One of the Amarnath pilgrims, injured in the attack, after being brought to Surat on Tuesday. PTI

One of the Amarnath pilgrims, injured in the attack, after being brought to Surat on Tuesday. PTI

Nearly 30 percent of the pilgrims who take the yatra every day also visit other tourist spots, said Farooq Ahmad Kuthoo, secretary general of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK). Some of them travel to Srinagar as well before going on the yatra.

Security officials said that the yatris travel on their own without adhering to the security guidelines that leave them vulnerable to militant attacks.

As per the guidelines issued by the police and Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), pilgrims have to proceed in a convoy from the base camp in Jammu from two routes — Baltal and Pahalgam — in Kashmir. The officials say, despite the security arrangements, the pilgrims travel in hired vehicles and also by air to Srinagar.

Sher Singh, the camp director of Amarnath yatra, said they have a hard time convincing the yatris to take the security cover.

"We allow the yatra convoy to proceed from Srinagar to Jammu during a specific time of the day. Despite making several announcements on the security guidelines at the base camp, many pilgrims ignore the details. They tell us that they want to visit tourist areas of Sonamarg or Ladakh and don't want to proceed along with the security convoy," he said.

"There is a transit camp for the pilgrims in Anantang and the vehicles which come from Jammu to Srinagar by 5 pm are halted at the camp. The pilgrims are allowed to proceed during the day as part of the security convoy. Yatris who travel at night on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway are vulnerable to militant attacks," said a senior security official.

Pilgrims are also advised by the shrine board and the police to carry permit cards and slips bearing their names and addresses to ensure coordination and cooperation with government officials.

"The pilgrimage is also viewed as a tourist avenue. After the pilgrimage is over, it no longer remains a part of the yatra. The yatris, who were attacked, were moving around in different areas of Srinagar after they had completed the pilgrimage,'' said a senior security official from Anantnag.

There is a camp at Mir Bazar in Anantnag — all those pilgrims who come from Jammu are made to spend the night there and the yatra is allowed to proceed on the Baltal and Pahalgam routes early in the morning. It was only last year that the yatra was allowed during the night hours because of incidents of stone-pelting after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani, the security official said.

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 19:44 PM

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