Amarnath shrine board awaits admn’s final response on annual pilgrimage

Amid a spike in Covid-19 cases across Jammu and Kashmir and high court directions, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) is waiting for the final decision on the annual pilgrimage from the administration, a top official said.

On Thursday, J&K recorded 493 fresh infections with 16 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the number of coronavirus cases to 11,666 with 211 fatalities.

The annual pilgrimage was likely to take place between July 21 and August 3 from the shorter Baltal track in view of the pandemic.

The Supreme Court had on Monday declined a plea to restrict the annual Amarnath yatra due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. A bench led by justice D Y Chandrachud said the court did not want to interfere in the issue which has to be solely dealt with by the local administration.

However, the J&K high court on Wednesday asked SASB to “urgently take all decisions regarding the Yatra in view of the pandemic. However, the court hasn’t set any deadline for the government to take the decision.

A senior official on condition of anonymity said, “SASB never said the pilgrimage shall begin from July 21. They were speculations only. There were certain directions by the Supreme Court and J&K high court. On the basis of court directions, the local administration has been asked to decide over the same.”

“Now, we have asked for the report from the administration about the pilgrimage feasibility and their response is still awaited. Thereafter, the SASB will hold a meeting and take a final call in the matter,” he informed.

He, however, said the basic arrangements of track clearance from shorter Baltal track have been done and the morning and evening aarti was being telecast live by Prasar Bharti.

Sources in the SASB admitted that given the circumstances uncertainty looms over the pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, CRPF has started securing Yatri Niwas base camp on the banks of Tawi river in Jammu. The paramilitary force has started setting up check posts on the Tawi bridge leading to Bhagwati Nagar. “At least six check-posts are being set up by the CRPF. Similar posts are also being established at the Yatri Niwas base camp from where the pilgrims leave for the yatra,” said a CRPF officer.

Sources in administration had told HT on July 7 that J&K chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam had decided that 1,000 pilgrims on helicopters and 500 on foot shall be allowed each day during the curtailed pilgrimage that is likely to be held from July 21 to August 3.