“Amar” yatra of cleanliness

Suresh S Duggar
Waving the flag of cleanliness at a height of 3000 feet, just to think about this brings a bigger picture before us. This time, the campaign to make Amarnath yatra garbage free is in full swing. The campaign to make the whole Yatra route zero-waste under the authority of Jammu-Kashmir Rural Development Department is showing its impact. This campaign will save the river, hills, vegetation and the whole ecosystem of the region. This is the first such religious voyage that would be garbage free.
Visiting a pilgrimage is considered earning punya. According to Hindu belief, earning sanctification during the lifetime leads us to Moksha (salvation). The bad deeds done unknowingly reduce a bit due to this sanctification. When we talk about visiting the place of the eternity, i.e., Amarnath Dham Darshan, this multiplies sanctification manifold. Srinagar is the first stop for Amarnath Dham pilgrimage. After this there are visits to Pahalgam, Chandanwari, Mahagunas Parvat, Sheshnag, Panchtarni and then the cave (Gufa darshan). Amarnath Dham pilgrimage attracts Hindus largely. Every year a large number of pilgrims come with great reverence for Amarnath Darshan to increase their share of sanctification. This time the yatra has started after three years. In the year 2019, after the decision of Article 370, the yatra was stopped midway. Whereas in 2020 and 2021, the yatra got postponed due to the Covid protocol.
For the last several decades, whenever the yatra took place, tonnes of garbage was left behind in the hills after the Yatra finished. This year 800 to 1000 tonnes of garbage is estimated to be generated. The number of pilgrims this year is also expected to be twice the average. For years, there has been only talks of garbage and filth left after the pilgrimage. This year a concrete initiative has been taken in the direction of making this journey more virtuous.
The Rural Development Department of Jammu and Kashmir has started a garbage free pilgrimage campaign. The work of garbage free Amarnath Dham Yatra is in progress on the lines of Swachh Bharat Mission. This is for the first time in the country that the work is being done to make a religious pilgrimage zero waste. The purpose of this mission is to protect nature, vegetation, mountains, glaciers, waters of rivers as well as make this an example of ideal pilgrimage.
Cleanliness has special importance in all religions already. Cleanliness is prominently cited in the scriptures. A word in Sanskrit for cleanliness is saukam. This word has been used about four to five times in the Bhagavad Gita in places like 13. 8, 16. 3, 16. 7,17.14, 18.42 etc. Similarly, in Islam it is said that cleanliness of oneself and surroundings is necessary for the union with Allah. Prophet Muhammad has said that Allah forgives the sins of a person who keeps cleanliness. Cleanliness in life means a state of cleanliness. For the attainment of God, it is necessary to have a clean body and mind both, it is also necessary to have cleanliness of the environment where we worship God. Our religious texts already tell us the importance of worshiping rivers, trees, etc. from the sun and the moon. We see different forms of this teaching when celebrating Environment Day like a festival. In this connection, the United Nations Environment Program 2022 has given the theme Only One Earth this time, where it is said that our personal consumption choices make a difference. This campaign sheds light on climate, nature and pollution.
Taking forward the Only One Earth theme, IAS Officer and Secretary Rural Development J&K Mandeep Kaur has taken the responsibility of making the Yatra garbage free. Kaur says that we are committed to keep the Yatra completely free from single use polythene and disposable plastic. Under this campaign, the Langars running on the yatra route are also being made aware. Indore’s Start Up ‘Swaha’ has got the responsibility of fulfilling this resolve of the Government of Kashmir. It is the country’s most reputed Solid Waste Management Start-up. The founders of ‘Swaha’ are three people, two of which are IITians Rohit Agarwal and Jawalant Shah and CEO is Sameer Sharma. Amarnath Dham Yatra which started from 30th June is not only seeing a large number of pilgrims, but a great deal of garbage is also seen. But the efforts of the Rural Development Department of Kashmir and Swaha have started paying off.
Sameer Sharma of Swaha says that garbage of any kind will not be allowed to lie on the ground idle. Every part of the waste will be recycled. The compost made from this waste will be useful to the commuters and the city council of the area. Since the passengers were unaware and unprepared for such a campaign, the volunteers of Swaha are guiding the pilgrims from the base camp itself. Not to carry, use and throw raincoats, plastic bags, spoons etc. Even if these things are coming upside for some reason, then do not throw them on the mountains. Pathankot’s Dheeraj, who has completed the Amarnath Yatra again this year after 2007, says, this time the cleanliness is visible. Volunteers are visible all along the way. The Langar (community meal) people are also aware and are helping. Dheeraj’s companion Kapil believes that such cleanliness should also be done in Kedarnath, Badrinath. This is a very good initiative or else the coming generations will not be able to have Darshan of Baba Amarnath.
Environmentalists have expressed concern about Yatra since previous times. They say that plastic and other waste gets buried in the snow and the ground and causes landslides and the rest of the garbage and dirt flows in different forms and gets mixed in the river flow, which pollutes the drinking water more or less. To make the Amarnath Yatra route garbage free this time is an effort to get rid of all these problems. The waste generated during the journey is being converted there itself so that it does not spoil the natural resources. This work of Zero Waste Management has started from the first day of the Yatra and now its effects are visible.
Swaha has installed parabolic solar concentrators along the Amarnath Yatra route as part of its sustainable solution. It is capable of boiling water, cooking, boiling and cooking lentils, rice, potatoes, maggi, tea, milk etc. This time two of their models, community cooking and domestic model have been installed in the base camp as an experiment.
Experts have already expressed concern over the increasing garbage in the Badrinath-Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri yatra. They link the mountain of increasing garbage with the tragedy which occurred at Kedarnath in 2013. Regarding the Char Dham Yatra, Professor MS Negi of Garhwal University believes that the pilgrimage places of hilly areas like Kedarnath are very sensitive.
On the other hand, environmentalist OP Joshi says that the way the plastic waste is left by the devotees, it harms the entire ecosystem. This will increase occurrence of disasters like landslides. Plastic waste has increased in religious places, but due to lack of a proper cleaning system, the natural resources are being affected there. At the same time medicinal plants are also disappearing.