RFID (radio frequency identification) tags for all pilgrims, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for surveillance of routes, deployment of over 80,000 security personnel – a multi-layer security cover is in place for the Amarnath Yatra this year.
The annual yatra, which was flagged off by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha from the Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu on Wednesday, is taking place after a gap of two years due to the pandemic – it is the first since the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5, 2019.
The first batch of pilgrims will set off from the Pahalgam and Baltal base camps on Thursday. While 4,890 left the Bhagwati Nagar camp on Wednesday, the total will be much more since many reach Pahalgam and Baltal base camps on their own. The yatra will end on August 13.
“By far, this is the largest security arrangement we have made for the yatra this year. Besides increasing the number of personnel, technology is also being used. We have placed drones for aerial surveillance and also tagged the pilgrims with RFID to keep track of them,” said a senior paramilitary officer, adding that the heightened security apparatus has been necessitated by the higher threat perception this year.
Police sources said intelligence agencies have warned of a “high possibility” of a militant attack. “A multi-layer security system has been put in place. It is not easy for the militants to break the security cordon but we can’t take any chances,” said a senior police officer.
Police sources said they are particularly worried about the use of magnetic bombs. “These are a real threat,” said the police officer. “It is almost impossible to keep track of every vehicle, especially in congested areas like Srinagar city”.
Besides the J&K Police, the Army, CRPF, ITBP, BSF and other central paramilitary forces have also been deployed. A special team of police and paramilitary personnel will continuously monitor CCTV footage from security cameras along the route and at the base camps, said sources.
The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has set up counters at various places, including airports, railway stations and bus stands for issuing RFID tags to pilgrims on arrival, on the basis of their yatra registration slips and identity proof. No pilgrim will be allowed without this tag, said officials.
As the pilgrims will be trekking through high altitudes, the Shrine Board has decided to provide an insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh each. Sinha said the decision was taken on the recommendation of senior doctors of AIIMS in view of the effect of Covid on people’s health.
Among other upgraded facilities, there will be battery cars to cover a distance of 2.3 kms between Baltal and Domel, and direct chopper service from Srinagar to Panjtarni for pilgrims who want to complete the yatra in a day. Earlier, helicopter sorties were only available between Pahalgam-Panjtarni and Baltal-Panjtarni.
The accommodation facilities have also been upgraded. While 69,770 pilgrims could be accommodated during the last yatra in 2019, arrangements have been made for 1,26,570 yatris this time. The number of tents along the yatra routes have increased from 3,530 in 2019 to 8,480 this year.
The administration has made arrangements for 106 medical beds in the yatra area, and hospitals have been set up at Pahalgam and Baltal base camps. A total of 391 doctors and 940 paramedical staff members will be deployed round-the-clock, said Sinha.