Amid the prevailing fragile security situation in Kashmir, the upcoming Amarnath Yatra is going to be a major challenge for the security agencies with State seeking at least 250 additional companies for smooth yatra.
Pertinently, the requirement is 20 per cent more than the force’s strength that had taken care of pilgrims’ security last year when Kashmir was on the edge in the wake of Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing.
The annual pilgrimage is all set to start from June 28 with multi-layer security cover in place at the both base-camps—Chandanwari in Pahalgam area of South Kashmir and Baltal, Sonmarg in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.
“This year, we have sought 10 to 20 per cent more additional forces than what it was last year for the smooth conduct of Amarnath Yatra,” Director General of Police (DGP) Dr S P Vaid said.
Sources said that last year 120 additional companies of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force and Sahastra Sema Bal (SSB) manned the yatra.
Sources said that if there would be an increase of ten per cent more additional forces as requested by the State, the number of additional companies of forces may reach 250 to 300. “This is apart from the existing companies of CRPF already in Kashmir for law and order duty,” he said.
The J&K Police Chief, however, said it remains to be seen whether Ministry of Home Affairs would approve the exact number of forces sought by the State. “Let’s wait for the MHA order,” Vaid said.
On the challenges for the Yatra and reasons for increasing the number of additional forces by the State, the DGP said: “There are many reasons and situation in South Kashmir is one of them.”
Police sources, however, assert that after the inputs by Crime Investigation Department (CID), an investigation and intelligence wing of J&K police, in its preliminary survey report from South Kashmir has suggested that militants may step up attacks in the months ahead and law and order situations may rise in various Southern districts which may cause “inconvenience to pilgrims.”
South Kashmir districts, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam have witnessed rise in the incidents of local boys joining militants and as per police records, 110 militants are locals, who joined armed groups of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba after Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8 last year. Despite uprising triggered by Burhan’s killing last July, the pilgrimage remains on and culminated smoothly.
Interestingly, Chandanwari route of Amarnath Yatra passes through South Kashmir. “On the basis of ground report, there is a need for the heightened security for the Yatra which includes covering highway stretch on the Jammu-Srinagar road link,” police sources said.
CRPF spokesman in Srinagar, Rajesh Yadav said that there are multiple challenges for the upcoming Yatra. “Militancy is always a challenge as they may try to disrupt the Yatra. Then there is law and order situation followed by stone pelting. Yatra movement on the highway is a big cause of concern as their vehicles may get stuck in the traffic jam and may fall easy prey to stone pelters,” he said. “CRPF is the primary police force responsible for the smooth Yatra, given the sensitivities involved especially sensitive situation in South Kashmir.”
A police officer posted in South Kashmir said that rising number of militants has become a major cause of worry for the forces. “There will be a round the clock alert once the Yatra will commence and that seeking help from the Army can’t be ruled out if things deteriorate,” he said.
Security agencies have already installed Close Circuit Television Sets (CCTVs) at various places on the high way stretch—on Srinagar-Jammu highway and also on Srinagar-Sonmarg road link.
“Similar CCTVs will also be installed at the both base camps and at various places en-route the cave shrine of Lord Shiva,” the officer said. Lakhs of pilgrims from all the parts of India come to have the glimpse of Shiv Lingum situated in the cave that falls at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), in the Himalyan mountain range.