Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat and Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra have so far reviewed security arrangements.
The Amarnath Yatra 2018 began on Wednesday amidst an unprecedented security cover, said to be the largest ever. While Hizbul Mujahideen operational chief Riyaz Naiko assured that pilgrims will not be their target, security agencies are not taking any chances in view of the militant attack on a bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims that left eight of them dead and 18 others injured last year.
Over two lakh pilgrims have registered for the annual pilgrimage to the 3,880 metre high cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas till now. The yatra will conclude on August 26 on the day of Rakshabandhan. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat and Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra have so far reviewed security arrangements.
A top security official told PTI that these arrangements are the “biggest-ever deployment of the security paraphernalia to ensure protection to the annual yatra that comes in the backdrop of a long and turbulent time of violence in the Kashmir Valley”. Let’s take a look at what is new to this year’s yatra and how security arrangements have a taken a high literally.
No extra pilgrims are allowed: Considering the carrying capacity of the existing tracks and other available infrastructure in the pilgrimage area, the SASB has decided to allow 7, 500 pilgrims on each route daily. The fleet of 109 vehicles is escorted by security forces’ vehicles from Jammu up to the base camp as security has been heightened for this year’s yatra. While the pilgrims performing the yatra via shorter Baltal route usually return to the base camp within a day, those taking the traditional Pahalgam route have to trek 42 kms, with an overnight stay at one of the halting stations before they can pay obeisance at the cave shrine.
Special motorcycle squad: Personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) formed a special motorcycle squad and are accompanying the batch of pilgrims embarking on the Yatra from Jammu Basecamp. The team comprises specially-trained CRPF men with cameras installed in their helmets to record every activity. Motorcycles will also help them to be fast in case of any attack or accident. Moreover, the special squad will carry first aid facilities for immediate treatment in case of emergencies. “The aim of our squad is to take immediate action in case of a medical emergency. We also have weapons with us which will help us if there is an attack. Our bikes will reach a place faster than cars and the cameras will help in monitoring the Yatra,” Constable Jaykant Yadav was quoted as saying by ANI.
Multiple agencies working together: The State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Indian Army, and the Civil Administration are working in tandem to safeguard the pilgrims. Security is being deployed at the base camp for the pilgrims. Other facilities like drinking water, toilets, and clean halls for stay, inquiry counters, transport, communication, and banking have been set up at the Yatri Niwas in Jammu.
‘Biggest-ever’ security blanket: A posse of over 40,000 armed CRPF and state police personnel have been manning the yatra routes from Jammu– via Pahalgam and Baltal– with their overwhelming presence in armoured vehicles. Forces have deployed a huge assortment of CCTV cameras and drones, assisted by mounted Army columns, to ensure that the yatra route is not breached by terrorists and in case of a possible attack, reinforcements reach as fast as possible.
“Each vehicle that has pilgrims and is part of the yatra is being tagged using RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and they will be monitored at a control room made operational. Security forces have been given specific responsibility to sanitise routes and secure a select number of pilgrim vehicles by sandwiching them between bulletproof troop carriers,” a senior security official was quoted as saying by PTI.
RFID tagging of vehicles: The RFID tagging of vehicles has been introduced for the first time after taking a lesson from last year’s militant attack on a civil vehicle in Anantnag district “Thousands of such tags have been purchased and are being stuck on vehicles. They cost about Rs 72 a piece and they will help give a clear picture to security forces in case a yatra vehicle is lost in the way or takes a wrong route. QRTs will immediately be scrambled to track such a four-wheeler,” a CRPF officer said.
Apart from this, P P Pauly, Commandant of the 73rd battalion of the force, said a control room has been created at his camp in Bemina to track all the RFID-bearing vehicles even as a 100 personnel squad has been kept on standby to respond to any untoward incident. A special desk has been set up at the Srinagar International Airport by the CRPF to register pilgrims and to tag their vehicles from there, in an extension to the exercise that is taking place at the land borders that leads to Jammu and Kashmir.