MHA reviews Amarnath yatra security, medical contingency, accommodation

Calls for steps to keep NH open

Drone cameras, 12000 troops to guard pilgrims

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, May 13: Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla today held high-level review of arrangements for annual Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrimage in South Kashmir Himalayas including security for the yatris as well as current scenario in Jammu and Kashmir at a meeting in the Union capital.
“Besides fool-proof security measures, medical contingency, keeping Jammu-Srinagar National Highway open during Monsoon, facilities for the yatris on Pahalgam and Baltal tracks and their stay in case of closure of yatra due to inclement weather were among the issues which were reportedly discussed at the high-level meeting,” official sources told the Excelsior.
“While security measures for the pilgrims were discussed on priority, other arrangements for the yatris were also reviewed at the meeting,” sources said, adding the Union Home Ministry called for adequate measures to be in place for Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrims as yatra is being conducted after a gap of two years from June 30 to August 11, totalling 43 days.
About 12,000 paramilitary personnel (120 companies) in addition to Jammu and Kashmir Police are expected to be deployed along the two pilgrimage routes via Pahalgam and Baltal, they said.
Drone cameras will hover over the pilgrim routes to help the security forces ensure the protection of pilgrims, officials said.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags will also be given to the pilgrims.
The Central Government wants that the pilgrims shouldn’t suffer if the yatra is stopped because of inclement weather and adequate arrangement for accommodating them at the National Highways, halt points like Yatri Niwas Jammu, Pahalgam and Baltal and the cave shrine should be in place.
“Medical contingency also came up for review and the Union Home Secretary is reported to have directed for making better healthcare arrangements for the pilgrims all along the twin tracks as well as other places,” sources said.
Jammu-Srinagar National Highway was also in the focus as it gets closed especially between Ramban and Banihal after rains. There was a view in the meeting that almost entire yatra duration (June 30-August 11) falls during Monsoon season and keeping the Highway always through is a challenging task.
However, the Home Secretary reportedly asked the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Chairperson, who was present in the meeting, to ensure that the Highway isn’t closed frequently.
In case of closure, the yatris should be accommodated comfortably and, for the purpose, accommodation should be created and identified well in advance, sources said.
The MHA also asked the administration to submit details about requirement of additional companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) for deployment during the pilgrimage, sources said.
“The Central Government as well as Jammu and Kashmir Government are concerned over yatra arrangements. They want fool-proof security arrangements to be in place for the pilgrimage,” sources said.
They added that the Central and J&K Governments don’t want to take any chance with the yatra arrangements and, therefore, more high-level security review meetings are also likely to be held in future. Union Home Minister Amit Shah will also review the yatra arrangements shortly.
This time, security arrangements are going to be more stringent as the pilgrimage is taking place after two years. In 2019 when the yatra was last held, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had sanctioned 336 additional paramilitary companies for the yatra. This year, the number is expected to be around 400 companies.
The yatra couldn’t be conducted in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID pandemic while it was cut short by about 15 days in 2019 ahead of Central Government’s August 5 decisions to scrap special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate erstwhile State into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
The Home Department and Police Headquarters are working out details of the paramilitary companies which would be sought from the Union Home Ministry for the yatra.
“The details will be worked out this week and sent to the Home Ministry,” sources said.
As per the reports, the Jammu and Kashmir Government could seek at least 400 additional companies of CAPFs from the Centre for making fool-proof security arrangements for Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrimage. The numbers are being worked out taking into account targeted killings by the militants and steps required to protect the soft targets as well as the pilgrims all along the National Highways including Pathankot-Jammu and Jammu-Srinagar besides twin tracks of Baltal and Nunwan, base camp in Jammu and all other vulnerable areas.
Sources said senior officers of the Central Government and J&K administration attended the meeting physically as well as virtually.
Besides the Home Secretary, five other Secretaries of the Government of India who attended the meeting include Defence Secretary, Secretary Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Secretary Earth Sciences, Secretary Telecommunication and Secretary Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
Chief Secretary Dr Arun Kumar Mehta, Additional Chief Secretary Home RK Goyal, Principal Secretary to LG Nitishwar Kumar, Principal Secretary Health and Medical Education Navin Choudhary, Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh and Additional DGP CID Rashmi Ranjan Swain represented Jammu and Kashmir.
Other officers who joined the meeting include the Chairman National Highway Authority of India, Direction Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Director Generals (DGs) of BSF, CRPF and BRO.
An officials handout by J&K Government said:- Union Home Secretary today held a meeting to review the conduct of upcoming Shri Amarnath Ji yatra, 2022 in which the Chief Secretary, DrArun Kumar Mehta briefed him about the arrangements made by the UT administration for its successful commencement.
The Chief Secretary apprised the meeting that this year state of the art arrangements have been made by the administration for smooth conduct of the yatra. He observed that the yatra is going to be performed after a gap of two years post COVID-19 pandemic so it is expected that the number would be much higher than previous years.
Dr Mehta further informed that, unlike previous years, the tentment capacity enroute holy cave has been exceptionally enhanced to 70000 yatris from existing 29000 till last yatra. He also gave out that this year a pilgrim could undertake yatra in a single day from Srinagar-holy cave-Srinagar by using the helicopter services.
The Home Secretary was also briefed that formulation of comprehensive sanitation plan has been made to make the yatra ODF++ this year. Elucidating, it was said that the arrangements have been made on the analogy of Kumbh Mela and there will be one sanitation worker for every 10 toilets and a supervisor for 10 sanitation workers.
As far as the health arrangements are concerned, it was given out that 6 base hospitals would be established enroute with dozens of oxygen booths this year. A provision of 100 bedded dedicated COVID care hospital is going to be established at Srinagar and ICU facilities at Pahalgam, Baltal and Sonamarg.
The provision for ambulances including critical care ones has been made besides isolation facilities at Panjtarni, Sheshnag and holy cave. The training and deployment of medical staff has been worked out as per the current requirements, the meeting was informed.
Regarding the traffic plan, it was said that RFID based monitoring and surveillance system has been introduced from Lakhanpur till base camps. Alert messages to Camp Directors would also be sent on real time basis for the safety of yatris, as was learnt during the meeting.
Regarding security arrangements it was said that Joint Police Control Rooms (JPCRs) and Emergency Operation Centres as per NDMA suggestions has been established. Deployment of Mountain Rescue Teams by Police, NDRF, SDRF, CRPF has also been done to meet any eventuality.
Overall there would be a capacity of more than one lakh pilgrims at 147 locations with a provision for proper toilets/baths, langars and dozens of medical centres, as given in the meeting. The yatra would be conducted in a very pleasant atmosphere as enhanced number of cloak rooms, water dispensers, dust bins, bottle catchers, steel benches and signages have been erected by the Shrine Board this year.