Less than a month after PDP candidate for Anantnag parliamentary seat, Tasaduq Mufti, stressed on the need for regulating Amarnath yatra stating that the yatra can spell disaster, a report by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) has called for curtailing the time period of the Hindu pilgrimage.
In an interview to a local newspaper, Mufti had said on March 25 that for the Amarnath yatra “there needs to be certain amount of control and certain amount of policing.” He told the newspaper, “There should be scouts who can see to it. One should regulate the numbers because it is a very sensitive space. When the Amarnath yatra is going on, it is a disaster waiting to happen. When people are going there, they defecate in the water bodies and we have the footage. Those things need to be controlled. Yes, there has been epidemic at times.”
In the report that was released by JKCCS and EQUATIONS, a Bangalore based research, campaign and advocacy organisation working on issues of tourism and ecology, it has called for regulating the yatra. The report titled “Amarnath Yatra: a militarised pilgrimage” which is based on a study on the Amarnath yatra, between 2014-2016, has noted that the number of yatris has swelled over the years.
“Over a period of time, and especially from the 1990s, the demographics of the yatra has changed, with lakhs of yatris participating from many regions of India. The number of Yatris participating has increased from mere thousands until 1990, with an increase since 1996 to over 3 lakhs in 2015. What was traditionally a 15-day Yatra is now conducted for between 45-55 days?
The increase in number of days was institutionalized after the formation of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in 2001, a statutory independent Board, headed by the Governor, which functions as a ‘State within the State’, without any accountability and few regulatory checks on its wide and arbitrary exercise of powers,” it noted.
The report has further stressed that given the eco-sensitive and precarious nature of the region and the critical role it plays in terms of providing water and environmental stability to the Valley ” there are serious implications of unregulated large visitations in the two valleys – Lidder and Sindh. Environmental concerns are linked to: carrying capacity, sanitation and solid waste and other environmental concerns like seismicity of the area, impact on glaciers and high altitude flora and fauna.”
“Based on interviews with key personnel of the armed forces, it appears that about 30,000 personnel were deployed in 2015 for the purpose of the yatra. This is in addition to the camps of the armed forces located on the route, who are additionally activated for the duration of the yatra. NGOs set up langars or community kitchens along the yatra route. 75% of the langar organisers come from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. While langars are accountable to follow rules and regulations vis-a-vis menu, waste disposal practices and services that they are allowed it was found that they violate most of them especially linked to the menu and waste disposal practices, leading to visible ecological degradation along the route. The share of Kashmiri tour and travel operators and hotel owners is minuscule since tour operators used are mostly from Jammu or outside the state and very few people stay in hotels due to the presence of the SASB camps along the route”
The report has sought restricting the yatra to traditional period of 15 days.” Very importantly, the faith of the yatris cannot be instrumentalised to further India’s political interests. We also call upon devotee groups to resist this use of their faith. De-militarize the Amarnath Yatra. The military has no place in a space of divinity. If the terrain renders the Yatra dangerous then disaster management institutions need to be involved and not the armed forces. Conduct an environment impact assessment of the pilgrimage and make necessary changes to the numbers allowed, and to its conduct. Carrying capacity should be scientifically established and regulatory mechanisms should accordingly be put in place,” it added.