Civil society groups of Kashmir on Saturday express their serious concern over the recent Supreme Court directions to the J&K government for undertaking civil engineering works leading to construction of roads and other infrastructure in the environmentally fragile Himalayan habitat around the Amarnath cave shrine.
"While we fully share the government's concern to ensure good health and well-being of the intending pilgrims, we believe that the yatra must be conducted in accordance with the National Environment Policy, the State Forest Policy and also the Nitish Sengupta Committee recommendations," said a joint petition signed by more than a dozen civil society members from different walks of life.
According to the petition, any move to come up with increased human activity through large scale construction works will greatly enhance pollution, pose serious challenges to public health and result in irreversible damage to the flora and fauna of the area, critical to tourism and agriculture of the region.
"A vast population of the Kashmir valley depend on the drinking water that originates from the glaciers around the Amarnath site. The area through which the current tracks lead to the Amarnath cave in the Sonamarg area fall under the Thajiwas Wildlife Sanctuary, and as such any construction activity will be in contravention of the established laws," it said.
The petition demanded to follow the principles of conservation for environment and administrative facilitation as applied to the pilgrimage to Holy Gangotri.
"Any politicisation of the pilgrimage could be fraught with serious consequences. Applying the same principle as in Gangotri, no human activity be undertaken in a manner that will irreversibly damage the fragile ecology of the Amarnath area," it said.
The civil society groups called upon the Central Empowered Committee on Forests and Environment and the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Environment to initiate steps that the national environment and forest policies be implemented in letter and spirit and the plans of large scale construction around the Amarnath cave shrine be subjected to legal scrutiny in the light of the established laws and policies.
"While we support administrative measures to ensure good health and well-being of the pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine, we believe construction of roads and cable cars will not help in preventing deaths because of the inherent health risks in high altitude travel," said the petition.
The civil society strongly recommend authentic medical clearance for the intending pilgrims on the pattern of the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra where pilgrims above 70 years are not allowed to undertake the yatra and pilgrims are to produce genuine medical certificates certifying their health status.
"We believe these very basic measures will greatly help in preventing pilgrim deaths in the high altitude area and at the same time ensure conservation of highly fragile and precious eco-diversity of the area," it said.
The Supreme Court had taken a serious view of around 100 deaths of pilgrims during the yatra this year and directed the government to augment facilities by coming up with macadamized roads up to the cave from twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal. It also directed to improve infrastructure on the routes.