15 Aug 2012

Statement by Union Home Minister on Amarnath Yatra

Following is the text of the statement made by Union Home Minster Sh. Sushil Kumar Shinde in Rajya Sabha today on the notice of calling attention by Shri Prakash Javadekar, MP regarding inadequate facilities and safety measures along the Amarnath Yatra route resulting in death of pilgrims. 
            “There have been statements from various quarters regarding the duration of the Amarnath Yatra and there have been demands for having the yatra for a fixed period. 
            The yatra is organized by the Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine Board; which is a body created by an Act of the State Legislature.  The Board has the Governor of the State as the Chairperson and ten members.  The present members are:

(i)                 H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar                                          
(ii)               Justice (Retd.) G.D. Sharma              
(iii)             Ms. Sunita Narain
(iv)             Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan
(v)               Shri Vijay Dhar
(vi)             Pt. Bhajan Sopori
(vii)           Dr. Ved Kumari Ghai 
            The beginning and the end of the Yatra are determined by two factors – the date on which the routes get clear of snow and the date on which the Raksha Bandhan falls. The yatra begins on the date on which the route is clear of snow and it ends on the date of the Raksha Bandhan.  It has been our experience that the routes get clear either in the last week of June or in the first week of July.  In the year 2003, the yatra started on 12th July and in 2004, it started on the 15th of July. In the year 2010, the yatra began on the 1st of July.  This year, the yatra started on the 25th of June. 
            On each of these occasions, the yatra closed on the Raksha Bandhan day.  The Yatra duration in a given year can longer or shorter, depending on the date in August on which Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) falls. 
  In 2011, the Shrine Board constituted a Committee headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to determine the duration of the yatra.  A copy of the Committee’s Report is placed at Annex-I with my statement and laid on the Table of the House.  The Committee’s report was discussed by the Shrine Board at length and it was noted that the duration of the yatra would be determined by the following factors:
(i)                 The extent of the snowfall received in the Yatra area during the preceding winter (Nov. to March)
(ii)               The weather conditions during April-May and the status of snow melt.
(iii)             The period necessarily required by the Army/Security Forces to get on the ground to establish the security-grid/area security.
(iv)             The date on which Raksha Bandhan falls in the year (the Board noted that assuming a fixed date of commencement of the Yatra, the longest duration of the pilgrimage shall be in the year in which this festival falls around end August). 
The board fully endorsed the Ravi Shankar sub-committee recommendations and decided that the Yatra 2012 should commence on 25th June and conclude on Raksha Bandhan, i.e. on 2nd August. 
The next issue which has been raised is regarding the casualties in the yatra.  The number of pilgrims who made the pilgrimage and the number of pilgrims who died in the past four years are as follows:

Year                No. of Pilgrims                        No. of casualties
2009                392653                                                45
2010                451710                                                77
2011                635611                                             106
2012                621145                                                93
            The above figures pertain to deaths in the yatra area and do not include casualties due to accidents on the national highway, etc. while approaching the yatra area. It will be seen that the number of casualties though unfortunate; have not been excessive as compared to the previous years. In fact, it has come down marginally this year compared to last year.  
The Shrine Board as well as the State Government advertised widely the fact that the yatra is in difficult terrain at an altitude where the oxygen levels are low and that only those yatris who are medically fit should undertake the yatra. 
            A copy of the health advisory which was issued to the Yatris is placed at Annex-II and laid on the Table of the House.  This advisory was distributed through pamphlets; displayed on the website of the Shrine Board and printed on the back of the registration form. The Shrine Board made it compulsory for yatris to produce a medical certificate indicating fitness of the yatris before they are registered by the Board for undertaking the yatra. The State Government of J&K had set up a High Level Committee in 2011 to review the health and other arrangements for the yatra and in accordance with its recommendations the State Government had established 15 medical camps along the route.  These were supplemented by 32 medical camps set up by the Army, CRPF and BSF.  All these camps had adequate number of doctors, staff and medicines.  A total of 33 medical ambulances were provided at the base camps and more than one thousand oxygen cylinders were kept on the yatra route.  In addition to the above, 37 medical aid centres were set up along the national highway in J&K. For yatris developing serious medical complications, arrangements were made to evacuate them by helicopters/dandies to base camps for onward transfer to Medical College Hospital in Srinagar for specialized treatment. 
The overall arrangements for the yatra were also upgraded from the year 2011.  For the first time, transit camps were established for overnight stay of Yatries at Walnut Factory, Qazigund, Mir Bazar, Anantnag District, Manigam and Yangoora, Ganderbal District. 
Emergency Shelters were set up in 19 locations in the yatra area, 13 on the Pahalgam route and 6 on Baltal route. Arrangements were made for 24 x 7 control room.  Telephone services were provided on entire yatra route as well as provision of helicopter services.  Both the Shrine Board and the State Govt. took all possible steps to make the yatra as convenient and safe for the pilgrims as possible. 
By order dated 20th July, 2012, the Supreme Court has desired that a Special High Powered Committee may go into the arrangements of the yatra and suggest improvements for the future.  The Committee is expected to submit its report by the first week of September 2012 after which any additional steps which are recommended will be taken for the yatra in the future years”.

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