The 45-day annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir is all set to commence from June 28. Nearly half-a-million Hindus are expected to undertake the pilgrimage. This year’s Yatra begins in the backdrop of slew of judgments from the Supreme Court of India. Last year, the apex court had asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to complete the construction of roads and widening of passage to the cave shrine before snowfall. The court had also expressed its concern over the growing number of casualties of Amarnath pilgrims. However, the government needs to realise that its responsibility doesn’t end with what has just been subject matter of the courts. Concern over the harm to the ecology of Kashmir during the Amarnath pilgrimage has rightly been shown by many quarters from within and outside the Valley. It needs no emphasis that Kashmir should continue with its tradition of great hospitality, not just for the yatris but to all outsiders who come to the Valley. But it is essential to also look at the costs Kashmir’s ecology is paying for the conduct of the pilgrimage.
There has been a perpetual demand for regulating the number of pilgrims to visit the cave each day. The number of days the Yatra lasts also has to be reduced to a more reasonable duration, something that the ecology can afford to absorb without any adverse effects. Sadly, every year at the end of Yatra, the picturesque Pahalgam and its peripheries present a dirty picture, with trash littered everywhere, particularly on the banks of Lidder which flows through Pahalgam. In fact, quintals of polythene are littered by pilgrims along the Amarnath Yatra track. While the courts have already directed the government to stop entry of polythene carry bags into the Valley, the Yatra shows no sign of this being a priority of the government. The J&K High Court has been rapping the government for its failure to enforce a ban on polythene. Mahant Deependra Giri, the custodian of saffron-robed mace popularly known as ‘Chhari Mubarak’, last year suggested several measures including replacement of tented accommodation by wooden huts enroute the shrine of Amarnath for the smooth Yatra. “Tented accommodation may be replaced by the wooden huts on the pattern of huts built by Pahalgam Development Authority which have survived the hostile weather conditions and are in place for over two decades at Sheshnag and Panchtarani,” Giri said.
Hope the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and the government haven’t ignored the Mahant’s suggestions to ensure safety of the yatris and the fragile ecology.