Facing flak from the Supreme Court and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over increasing deaths during the Amarnath yatra, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in an emergency meeting on Tuesday decided to bring in stricter health certificate mechanism and better awareness on precautions for the arduous pilgrimage.
"There were serious doubts about the validity of the health certificates on which pilgrims had secured yatra permits. More vigorous measures may require to be enforced to prevent the loss of pilgrims’ lives. Short documentaries prepared in various languages will be shown for several months in advance of the yatra to better educate the potential pilgrims," said SASB chief executive officer Navin Chaudhary.
Further efforts would be made to ensure that 100% pilgrims arrive after procuring registration based on valid health certificates in the future yatras, said Chaudhary.
The death toll in the ongoing yatra has touched 90 this year, in just 28 days. Last year, 107 had died in 45 days. "Of 90 deaths, 84 occurred due to medical reasons and six in accidents. Besides, 22 pilgrims had lost their lives outside the yatra area, of whom 18 were killed in serious accidents," said statement issued by SASB in Srinagar.
The Supreme Court has taken a serious note of the deaths and asked the state government to take help of other states to deploy necessary medical teams.
In New Delhi, the BJP has blamed the shorter duration of 38-days for the deaths.
The shrine board has ruled out poor medical facilities. "The board expressed satisfaction on upgradation and enlargement of facilities available at the Medical Aid Centres (MACs) set up by the state health department," said the SASB statement.
According to shrine board, there are 89 MACs --- 61 set up by the health department, 22 by the Army and CPOs and six by the NGOs.
"After discussions with the doctors incharge of the various MACs, it's informed that several pilgrims who died were already suffering from serious medical ailments," said the board spokesman. The board claims to have treated 3,42,752 pilgrims at medical centres up to July 20.
SASB chairman NN Vohra, also J-K's governor, chaired the Tuesday's meeting attended by board members Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Bhajan Sopori, Justice GD Sharma, Dr Ved Kumari Ghai, Sunita Narain and Vijay Dhar, who all visited the holy cave in the morning.
Around 4,07,815 pilgrims had secured registration up to July 22 but the number has crossed six lakh mark, raising questions as to how unregistered pilgrims made their way up to the shrine.
Vohra has nominated Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi and Navin K. Choudhary, CEO, to represent the board on the special high powered committee established under the Supreme Court’s order. Narain, who will visit the cave next week, will advise on environmental issues.
The board is planning to come up with a detailed critical report on the various contributory causes. "Thereafter, all necessary steps must be taken to ensure against loss of life in the coming years. It is imperative to reckon the harsh climatic conditions of the high Himalayan altitudes through which the pilgrims have to trek. The implications of early commencement of the Yatra would have to be seriously revisited," said SASB members in a joint statement.