Amid tight security, the 48-day long annual Amarnath yatra on Friday began here in the shadow of the recent terror attacks in the state, with deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh flagging off the first batch of 1,282 pilgrims for the cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas.
Drones are being used for aerial security of the Amarnath base camp at Bhagwati Nagar area of Jammu city for the first time while at least 20,000 security personnel have been deployed along the two routes.
“Adequate security has been put in place to ensure smooth and peaceful conduct of Amarnath yatra this year,” Singh said.
The first batch of pilgrims, comprising 900 men, 225 women, 13 children and 144 sadhus, left in a convoy of 33 vehicles escorted by CRPF personnel from Bhagwati Nagar base camp at 0500 hours today, a police officer said. Chanting ‘Bam Bam Bholay’ and singing bhajans, the pilgrims, who reached the Bhagwati Nagar base camp from various parts of the country, left for their onward journey to Pahalgam and Baltal base camps from where they will proceed to the cave shrine, located at a height of 3,888 metre, on Saturday.
The state is reeling under increased terrorist incidents and attacks on security forces in the Kashmir Valley, posing a huge challenge to the security apparatus in ensuring a peaceful and incident-free Amarnath yatra. Eight CRPF personnel were killed and at least 21 others injured when two militants attacked its CRPF convoy at Pampore in Pulwama district on June 25.
As many as 12,500 central paramilitary personnel and 8,000 state policemen will be deployed along the two routes in South Kashmir’s Pahalgam and Northeast Sonamarg. To review the situation and take stock of security measures put up for Amarnath yatra, Union home minister Rajnath Singh is arriving on a two-day visit in Kashmir and is likely to take part in “Pratham Darshan” of ‘ice lingam’ at the shrine.
Talking to reporters after flagging off the yatra at Bhagwati Nagar base camp, the deputy chief minister said adequate security forces have been sent by the central government to ensure an incident-free yatra. Flanked by minister of state for tourism Priya Sethi and BJP MP Jugal Kishore, Nirmal Singh said that the state government and Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) have made all arrangements with regard to boarding and lodging, medical and other facilities enroute the cave shrine from Lakhanpur to Amarnath cave for the pilgrims.
He said that special enquiry centres have been set up by police and other agencies for all type of information, particularly the weather conditions enroute to the pilgrims. As an increased security measure, Drones have been inducted for aerial security and crowd management at Amarnath base camp in Jammu winter capital city.
“With upgradation in technology, many new electronic surveillance systems have been inducted in the security set up,” a senior police officer said. CRPF will be using the drones for security of Bhagwati Nagar base camp here and a monitoring centre has been set up at the camp. “This will be in addition to the manual security in and around the base camp”, the officer said.