Srinagar: Top J&K Union officers, including Lt Governor and civil and police officers, visited the Amarnath cave shrine to supervise the ongoing rescue operation after a cloudburst near the cave shrine on 8 July 2022, killed 16 Hindu pilgrims and injured several others.
Around two dozen people continue to remain missing. It took just 10 minutes for gushing waters with stones and mud came from the top of the mountain sweeping away makeshift tents and community kitchens and washing away dozens of pilgrims.
The beautiful Himalayan foothills, within minutes, saw heavy rains, flash floods, the overcast sky with black clouds kissing the mountains and perhaps a cloudburst that swept away tents and makeshift kitchens. It was helplessness and darkness for the scattered hundreds of pilgrims who could not believe their eyes when the beautiful mountainous landscape within minutes turned furious.
Drones and helicopters are being used to rescue injured and bring back dead bodies to the base camp along with rescue teams bringing back injured through land routes. High-tech equipment and sniffer dogs were deployed as rescue operations continued on 10.07.2022 to look for survivors in the cloudburst incident near the Amarnath cave shrine.
Around half-a-dozen pilgrims were evacuated by Army helicopters on 9 July 2022, as rescue operations continued. About 150 pilgrims were shifted to a paramilitary camp set up in Panjtarni on Friday night, and 15 injured were airlifted to Baltal. The pilgrimage was temporarily suspended, which may restart in a day. DRDO has placed two 50-bed hospitals in Baltal and another yatra route.
In 1996, over 250 pilgrims died from bad weather, landslides and heavy rains in the mountains. During this period, there was hefty snowfall and severe blizzards along the yatra route. Nearly 242 yatris lost their lives due to exhaustion, exposure, freezing, etc.
One of the reasons cited was overcrowding, as thousands of pilgrims were ill-equipped, had no winter wear clothes, and had started moving up and down the pilgrimage route.
In 1969, 40 pilgrims died after a cloudburst in Pahalgam. Those days, the number of pilgrims was minimal. Local shopkeepers and observers say that the number of Yatris has increased manifold, and Yatra length has been extended to more than a month for a decade. The present ongoing pilgrimage is also for 45 days. Over half a million pilgrims are expected to participate in this year’s Yatra, which began on June 30. According to the latest reports, about 70,000 pilgrims visited the holy shrine amid heavy bandobast of three-layered security.
Security beef up
Given the security threats, the authorities have deployed Army and paramilitary forces, Jammu and Kashmir Police, Health minister paramedics and State Disaster Response Force teams on the main routes pilgrims use on their way to the cave. Also, drone surveillance, radio frequency identification and hundreds of CCTV cameras are placed for foolproof security.
The Yatra was cancelled in 2019 amid widespread lockdowns after the Indian government abruptly revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status on August 5 of that year. In 2020 and 2021, The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Yatra to remain very limited.
Several national and local leaders have expressed deep shock and grief over the tragic deaths of pilgrims due to a cloudburst near the holy Shri Amarnath Ji, which included Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Former Chief Ministers of J&K Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti expressed sorrow over the tragedy.