The Nunwan Base Camp here has been converted into a fortress ahead of the commencement of the annual Amarnath Yatra, which will begin on Thursday, as security for this year’s pilgrimage was heightened to thwart any rerun of last year’s militant attack that left eight pilgrims dead and several injured.
Police and CRPF and other forces have been deployed in large numbers around the Nunwan Base Camp located at the entry of this buzzing tourist town.
The first security checkpoint was established and activated near the Langanbal bridge where police personnel check every vehicle entering or leaving Pahalgam, which serves as the base camp for the pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath.
Forces personnel have been deployed on both sides of the Lidder stream to thwart militant attacks.
The next security barricade is adjacent to the Nunwan Base Camp where hi-tech gadgetry will be used to maintain strict vigil.
CCTV cameras, metal detectors and X-ray machines have been installed to prevent smuggling in of contraband. Besides, every person crossing into the tourist resort will be frisked.
“We do not want to leave anything to chance. It was a misfortune that militants succeeded in targeting a bus last year but we are making all out efforts to ensure that it is a smooth sailing this year,” a senior police official said.
Several police, paramilitary and intelligence officers have set up base around Pahalgam to ensure pilgrims are kept out of harm’s way. “South Kashmir has been on the boil over the past year — both in terms of militancy-related incidents and law and order problems. We have formed a two-pronged strategy to ensure pilgrims are not affected by these incidents,” the official said.
The pilgrims heading to Amarnath — from both Pahalgam and Baltal routes — will have a definite time frame to make it from one base camp to another. A list of do’s and don’ts has been issued by the Shri AmarnathJi Shrine Board, which manages the annual yatra.
In Srinagar, chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam issued a series of instructions to the administration to ensure hassle-free and smooth conduct of the yatra.
These instructions were issued following an extensive tour of the adviser to the Governor, K Vijay Kumar, and the chief secretary to Baltal and Panjtarni yesterday to review the preparedness and arrangements for the annual yatra.
“Meteorological reports should begin forthwith from today and these would be sent to all concerned,” the chief secretary said. He also stressed the need to ensure greater communication and coordination between the civil and police administration.
“Food safety is a top priority in the absence of which there can be health issues. Deputy commissioners will ensure food safety officers certify that arrangements are up-to-the-mark and that quality food is available during the yatra period,” he said.
Meanwhile, Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday directed the top security brass to ensure “no sabotage of the upcoming Amarnathyatra by anti-peace elements.” She also lauded the forces for successful anti-militancy operations hoping that “well-coordinated operations would ultimately lead to a secure atmosphere in the Valley.”
The defence minister arrived in Srinagar in the morning along with army chief General BipinRawat and was received by top army commanders including northern army commander lieutenant general Ranbir Singh and general officer commanding of Srinagar-based 15 corps, lieutenant general A K Bhat.
Sitharaman chaired a crucial security review meeting at Rajbhavan which was attended by Governor N N Vohra, Army chief, chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, DGP S P Vaid, advisors to Governor and GoC 15 Corps.
The defence minister also went to BB Cantonment where she was briefed about the evolving security scenario in the Valley.
“The minister was apprised about the counter infiltration and counter militancy operations undertaken in the recent past,” defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia told Kashmir Post. “She commended the commanders and troops for the excellent operational successes, which have contributed significantly towards improving the security environment in Kashmir Valley.”
An official spokesman said that Sitharaman reviewed the security framework put in place by the forces for the yatra and stressed that all security agencies must act with complete synergy to achieve effective security on the ground.
“She reiterated the importance of a secure environment to enable a smooth yatra and encouraging maximum tourist arrivals in the state,” the spokesman said. “Defence minister advised the security agencies to constantly review and identify any gap in the security arrangements and ensure swift and targeted counter terror responses on the ground.”
The minister also visited Baltal base camp in Ganderbal district and carried an aerial survey of the area.
This year 240 additional companies of forces have been deployed en-route to cave shrine which is a twenty percent increase since last year. Besides, 20,000 policemen have also been assigned yatra duty.
Last year, the militants had attacked a pilgrim bus in Anantnag district resulting in death of nine pilgrims and injuries to 18 others. Police had later killed the alleged mastermind Lashkar commander Abu Ismail in a brief encounter at Aribagh in Nowgam area of Srinagar.