Arvind Singh, a resident of Madhya Pradesh, along with his father Ram Singh, 80, left for 46-km trek from Pahalgam on Wednesday morning with the latest 1000-plus batch of pilgrims. After trekking treacherous 20 km, elder Singh breathed his last around 2pm after complaining breathlessness.
“He was not able to breathe, and stopped breathing all of a sudden,” said the victim’s son Arvind.
An army medical team reached the spot at the Pissu Top, 11.080 feet above the seal level, within 10 minutes but failed to resuscitate Singh.
The father-son duo has no medical certificates, except for a card issued at Ram Mandir in Jammu with the Jammu and Kashmir Police written at top. “Ever since we left from MP a week ago, we have not screened ourselves for medical check-up. We were not asked for any certificate here,” admitted Arvind, while sitting besides the body at the Chandanwari medical camp, established in a tent at the foothills of the tall mountain stretch.
Most pilgrims the Hindustan Times team spoke to have no medical certificates with them. From Pahalgam’s Nunwan base camp to Chandanwari, there is no screening for the medical certificates, exposing the tall claims of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board of scrutinising every pilgrim for medical certificate before allowing them to move forward towards the cave shrine located 46 km from Pahalgam at14,000 feet height.
The only help provided by the board to Singh was a police vehicle to shift the body. Singh’s death has taken the toll of pilgrims to 100 in just 30 days, with eight more days of the yatra left.
There are five medical camps of the state health department and more than 200 oxygen cylinders on the 46-km stretch. But a very few pilgrims avail the facility despite portable oxygen cylinders piled up at the Chandanwari medical camp.
Most pilgrims expressed ignorance about availability of facilities. There are no brochures or informative kiosks to educate the pilgrims about the medical camps and other facilities in case of exigencies.
Despite the fact that 45 casualties occurred on the Pahalgam-Chandanwari-Sheshnag route since June 25, the shrine board has failed to come up with a single signage for pilgrims, many of them illiterate, to educate about the height and necessary precautions to be taken for each phase crossed.
The Pahalgam route has at least six stops before the cave at different heights. Non-availability of informative and educative boards has left pilgrims helpless in crisis.
“Do you see any sign board on how to proceed for the yatra anywhere on the route? There are no counters to gather information. The main shrine board office at vital Chandanwari camp is obscurely placed. Every pilgrim is left clueless on how to embark on the yatra on healthy lines,” said Ashok Gupta, a pilgrim from Jammu.
Gupta said pilgrims are not aware about what to wear and the height they are trekking at and its health implications. “Facilities are there but there is poor awareness campaign carried out by the state government and the shrine board. Information counters could save lives,” he said.
Dr Ashiq Hussain, posted at the Chandanwari medical camp for past 16 days, too, admits poor awareness among pilgrims about the yatra. “A patient Ritu Sharma, a resident of Indra Nagar, Lucknow, weighed around 170 kg and her daughter was suffering from tuberculosis. We advised them not to take the trekking route as it could prove fatal. But despite our advice the duo, both educated, embarked on the yatra, saying ‘will die for Bhagwan’s sake’,” said Hussain, adding “among the patients I attended most above-60 of age were unfit to take the pilgrimage, but faith drives them to the cave.”
The Supreme Court had taken a strong notice of the deaths and asked the shrine board and the state government to do the needful to avoid further deaths. But on ground, awareness and medical screening continues to be dismal.