On Tuesday Chief Secretary Dr Arun Kumar Mehta directed the government officers associated with the conduct of Amarnath Yatra to strictly adhere to all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during inclement weather.
This direction is very important as any violation of SOPs during bad weather can create serious problems, not only for the pilgrims but also for those managing the pilgrimage.
Two hundred and eighteen pilgrims and 25 local porters died during snowfall and freezing cold on Yatra route in August, 1996.
After several years, a record number of pilgrims were either returning after having “ darshan” at the holy cave or going towards the holy cave when the weather conditions turned hostile that year.
It snowed and rained for days together. Thousands of pilgrims were stranded along the narrow, slippery, and highly hazardous pathway between August 21 to August 26.
Two hundred and forty three persons including 218 pilgrims died. They were frozen to death or some of them slipped down to the deep ravines due to stampede at many points.
The yatra was stopped and large number of pilgrims got stranded on various other places on the yatra routes.
The pilgrims later told media that local Kashmiris opened doors for them and provided them shelter and food. The government pressed into service army and IAF choppers to rescue the stranded pilgrims from near the holy cave and other neighbouring places and shifted them to hospitals.
Later the government set up Dr Nitish Sengupta Commission to look into the causes of the tragedy and give recommendations for smooth and safe yatra for future.
After completing its work the commission submitted its report to the government and also gave its recommendations. And important recommendations were implemented from next year and the number of Yatris from Jammu to Kashmir and from base camps to holy cave and back was also regulated.
SOPs were formulated and those are being reviewed every year and modified, if needed. Chief Secretary Dr Arun Kumar Mehta during a meeting with senior officers on Tuesday strictly told them to adhere to the SOPs during inclement weather.
On Tuesday the authorities had temporarily suspended the yatra due to bad weather. No pilgrim was allowed from Jammu towards Kashmir, and no pilgrim was allowed from the base camps at Chandanwari in Pahalgam and Baltal in Ganderbal towards the holy cave. On Wednesday the yatra was resumed as weather conditions improved.