The annual pilgrimage to the 3,880-metre high Amarnath cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir has begun.
Amid tight security, the first batch of Amarnath yatris left the base camp in Kashmir early Monday morning to begin this year’s annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine.
While a total of 1,617 pilgrims left from Baltal, 2800 started from Pahalgam for Amarnath cave.
Anantnag district development commissioner Khalid Jahangeer and other police officials flagged off the yatra at around 5.30 am from the Nunwan base camp in Pahalgam.
Over 1.5 lakh pilgrims from across the country have so far registered themselves for the 46-day yatra, which takes place from the traditional 36-km Pahalgam track in Anantnag district and 14-km Baltal route in Ganderbal district.
The first convoy of 93 vehicles, including three motorcycles, carrying the pilgrims was flagged off at Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu in the early hours of Sunday by advisor to the governor.
A multi-tier security grid has been formed for the security of pilgrims this year. “A robust security cover has been put in place for the Yatra which includes satellite and chip-based tracking of vehicles and pilgrims. The deployment of forces will be in various layers to ensure smooth conduct of the pilgrimage,” the officials said.
Elaborating upon the security plan, officials said apart from a special motorcycle squad of CRPF personnel with cameras fixed on their helmets accompanying the convoys — which was introduced last year CCTV cameras have been placed at various locations at base camps and sensitive spots along the twin routes, including on the highway.
The 300 additional companies of security forces deployed for the conduct of parliamentary polls in Kashmir have been retained and deployed for the security of the pilgrimage, they said.
Besides the security deployment on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway and Yatra routes, stationing personnel in sensitive areas and quick reaction teams (of police and CRPF), mobile vehicle check posts along with technical monitoring, including through drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are all part of the comprehensive security plan.
The officials added that barricades will be erected on the highways soon after the cut-off timing for the movement of security forces’ convoys and pilgrims.
They said each Yatra vehicle will be fitted with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag which will remain under the radars connected with respective control rooms, and no such vehicle will be allowed to cross a particular point after the cut-off timing.
To further strengthen the security apparatus, the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) has provided every pilgrim with barcodes which will be connected with towers set up at multiple locations along the Yatra route.
Inspector General of CRPF, Ravideep Singh Sahi said stringent security arrangements have been made right from Jammu to the holy cave shrine.
“The forces have been divided sector-wise and (each sector) includes components like ROP (road opening parties), night area domination, law and order and QRTs (quick reaction teams). This comprehensive plan has been made based on the experience of last year as well as that of previous years,” he said.
The IG CRPF asserted that technology is always a force multiplier and RFID tags will be used for the Yatra this year as well.
“This year, the shrine board has put in place a yatri management system through which we can track the location of each and every pilgrim. UAVs and drones along with CCTV cameras are being used for the security of yatris (pilgrims),” he said.
“The CRPF is also using IP-based CCTV cameras to track the forces and the route on real-time basis. We have a command and control structure based on the perceived threats and our focus will be to implement the security plan on the ground. The security scenario is totally under control,” Sahi added.
As many as 2,85,006 pilgrims paid obeisance at the cave shrine last year, while the number of pilgrims undertaking the Yatra was 3,52,771 in 2015, 3,20,490 in 2016 and 2,60,003 in 2017.
In 2017, a militant attack on the Yatra had left seven pilgrims dead and 19 injured.