Jammu: Although animals don’t use toilets like human beings, ponies and mules carrying pilgrims to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath will now be able to do their business in full privacy—using a first-of-its-kind diaper made exclusively for them.
The inimitable idea, a sort of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan for ponies, who are used to a life of open defecation, is intended to tackle the problem of stench, often unbearable for pilgrims, coming out from faecal balls of the animals who slog day and night in the picturesque meadows in between Baltal and the Amarnath shrine.
During a recent meeting chaired by Jammu and Kashmir Minister for Forest Environment and Ecology, it was decided to make ponies carrying pilgrims wear diapers.
Chief Executive Officer of Sonmarg Development Authority Shabir Ahmad Raina said 500 animal diapers have been ordered so that no pollution or environmental degradation is caused during the pilgrimage. If everything goes according to plans, it would become a permanent feature from next year.
“This is the first time in the history of Amarnath pilgrimage wherein the government has taken such an initiative. Five hundred diapers have been ordered in the first phase. We tried to search for these diapers on the internet but did not find many agencies selling them online. Those who are selling them are doing it at a very high cost that we could not afford,” said Raina.
The authorities then found some locals who could manufacture these diapers and ordered 500 of them at a cost of Rs 350 per diaper. The diapers will be delivered by next week. The authorities are yet to decide whether to distribute these diapers on a trial basis to the pony and mule owners or charge them a reasonable amount.
These diapers will be a kind of bag that will have the capacity to hold at least 10 kg of faecal balls by ponies and mules on the route. “One diaper is sufficient for a complete trip of a pony or mule and a new diaper would be provided to the owner after they return to the base at Baltal,” Raina said.
Mujeed Ahmad, 42, who carries pilgrims on his mule to Amarnath from Baltal every day, is happy that the government is thinking for them as mules and ponies are the breadwinners for many Muslim families in Kashmir region.
“People, especially youth, bring their mules and ponies to Baltal and Pahalgam routes every year during the tenure of pilgrimage to earn a living,” said Ahmad. He said what pony owners earn during the pilgrimage in two months cannot be earned in other parts of Kashmir during rest of the year.
Safe for animals?
Arun Anand, assistant professor, department of veterinary surgery and radiology at Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Ludhiana, said mules and ponies can release 1-1.5 kg of droppings in two hours. Explaining that since the faecal balls released by mules contain fibre and undigested cellulose, the cause of stench. The expert warned that the diapers could cause infections to the animals.
The Minister for Forests, Environment and Ecology Rajiv Jasrotia said registration of at least 2,000 ponies and mules that will carry pilgrims to the holy cave is expected this year, for which they are making arrangements. "These 500 diapers will be used to ensure cleanliness on the track from where pilgrims are carried. A large number of people prefer to walk on foot to the shrine and droppings of mules cause stench, besides being unhygienic," said Jasrotia.
There are two routes for the annual pilgrimage, including the Pahalgam-Chandanwari and Sonamarg-Baltal. Baltal route is preferred by pilgrims as it is shorter. The diapers will be used on both routes.
Yatra going green
With the annual Amarnath pilgrimage scheduled to begin on 28 June, a series of meetings of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, which manages the pilgrimage and other infrastructure to ensure safety of pilgrims and stop degradation of the environment during the pilgrimage is taking place on a daily basis now. The cave shrine is situated at a height of nearly 4,000 meters from sea level.
There has been controversy in the past as Kashmir-based social and environmental organisations had claimed that the pilgrimage was causing pollution in the area. However, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board is taking measures to ensure that no pollution is caused during the pilgrimage. Minimising the use of plastic is one such measure taken by the shrine board. Bio-degradable bags will also be distributed among shopkeepers to avoid the use of polythene, said Jasrotia.
Orders have also been issued to environment department to set up joint awareness camp with the Pollution Control Board and put display screen in place with messages asking the pilgrims to avoid littering.
Umang Narula, principal secretary to the governor and chief executive officer of the shrine board, informed that 1,91,073 pilgrims have secured advance registration through the designated branches of Punjab National Bank, J&K Bank and Yes Bank so far. This number includes 17,208 yatris who have obtained helicopter tickets till 12 June.
Narula also informed that 529 new toilets and 100 baths for the pilgrimage have been installed. A total of 2,750 toilets and 516 baths shall be installed by the board. “The shrine board is installing 80 bottle catchers at conspicuous locations along the yatra route. The plastic bottles are brought down and shredded in shredding machines at base camps of Nunwan and Baltal. The board shall also propagate the use of cloth bags as an alternative to plastic bags,” said Narula.
To keep the pilgrimage area clean and promote the segregation of wastes into bio-degradable and non-bio-degradable at source, the authorities will also install 1,465 colour-coded dustbins.
The authors are freelance writer and members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2018 22:16:53 IST