Amarnath yatra dates decided on religious calendar, says shrine board (Lead)

February 29th, 2012 - 8:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Amarnath Shrine Jammu, Feb 29 (IANS) Justifying this year’s June 25-Aug 2 Amarnath pilgrimage dates, criticised as too short in some quarters, the shrine board that manages the annual Himalayan pilgrimage said Wednesday that the dates were decided according to the religious calendar and also keeping the weather conditions in mind.

The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) announced the schedule Feb 25. But groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and the Hoteliers Association say the duration is too short and cannot accommodate an ever-rising number of pilgrims.

SASB Chief Executive Officer R.K. Goyal said: “There is need to appreciate that the variation in Yatra duration from year to year is on account of Raksha Bandhan falling on different dates and, as per the ongoing tradition, the Yatra concludes on this date.”

In this context, he said that “two years ago we were able to have a Yatra duration of 56 days as in that year the Raksha Bandhan fell on Aug 24, 2010.”

The CEO said the shrine board, set up through a legislative enactment, comprises eminent persons from varied fields and works within the provisions of the J&K; Shri Amarnathji Shrine Act (2000) and is not subject to any influence.

In 2011, Raksha Bandhan was on Aug 13, and consequently the Yatra duration was reduced by 10 days, to 46 days. In 2012, Raksha Bandhan falls on Aug 2, and the Yatra duration has been further reduced to 39 days. The board said: “It is not possible to prepone the commencement date because the tracks to the shrine have heavy snow which takes time to be cleared.”

The CEO said: “The Shrine Board is obligated to take into account all relevant considerations while deciding the Yatra commencement date every year as the safety and security of the Yatris is the foremost responsibility of the Shrine Board.”

The CEO added that “keeping in view the sentiments of the devotees, the Board has this year specifically decided to explore the possibility of pre-ponement of Yatra before 25th June, based on a professional assessment of the pace of snow-melt, which shall be undertaken in the first week of June 2012″.

Criticising the duration, VHP state chief Rama Kant Dubey said “curtailment of the yatra to little over five weeks” was a conspiracy to reduce the number of days and pilgrims for the pilgrimage.

Around 632,000 pilgrims visited the shrine, located at a height of 3,888 metres, in 2011 when the yatra went on for more than one-and-half months. Most pilgrims travel by road and stop over in Jammu before proceeding to the Valley.

Inderjeet Khajuria, a leader of Jammu hoteliers, told a press conference Tuesday that the shortened duration would mean less business for the hotels in Jammu.

But given the scale of snow that has covered the Kashmir Valley this year and the experience of the past years when the snow could not be cleared from the mountainous tracks leading to the cave shrine, and hostile weather conditions, the SASB decided the pilgrimage would start June 25 and conclude Aug 2.

From two base camps at Baltal and Pahalgam, the pilgrimage involves a treacherous trek to the shrine. According to SASB, 107 pilgrims died last year.

SASB has to seek the help of the state government, army and paramilitary forces to facilitate the pilgrimage, for clearing the mountainous tracks and for security reasons as well.

“It is not just a 39-day-affair. It is a much longer affair, putting up of facilities takes time and that is a huge task,” an SASB official told IANS.

Tarsem Sharma, a regular visitor to the shrine, said: “It would be better if matters were left to the organisation that manages the affairs of the shrine (SASB), rather than to those whose interests are well known.”

Another pilgrim, who identified herself as Sheila Devi, a retired teacher, asked: “What’s wrong with the schedule? SASB has no role in the amount of snow that has fallen this year.”

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