Amarnath Yatra terror attack: Bus was on road for 3 hours without any checks
A terrorist attack on a bus carrying Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag that killed seven people was likely the culmination of a string of security lapses, lax procedures and muddled practices.
The Yatra was cloaked in security this year because of heightened militancy threats and unrest in the Valley, and more than 30,000 personnel stationed along the route were supposed to avert any such attack.
But senior officials told HT on Tuesday that the entire apparatus is withdrawn at 5.30pm every day because buses and vehicles carrying pilgrims aren’t allowed to travel after 5 pm.
The ill-fated bus from Gujarat that came under terrorist fire started its journey from the Amarnath base camp of Baltal at 5pm, the cut-off time for buses on the route. Passengers said the bus suffered a tyre puncture and they spent nearly one-and-a-half hours on the side of the road, and were still in Kashmir around 8.20pm when the attack occurred. During this entire journey, it was not checked even once.
State deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh has already admitted to lapses.
A special operations group vehicle was travelling on the road behind the bus but didn’t stop the Gujarat-registered vehicle. Occupants of the SOG vehicle – which was bulletproof – reported that militants fired indiscriminately. The first target appeared to be the SOG vehicle.
Another factor that contributed to the attack was the flouting of registration and other regulations linked to the Yatra. Several such operators function out of Gujarat, which sends the maximum number of pilgrims to the remote Himalayan shrine, and many of them aren’t registered even with local associations.
The bus, registered with Om Sai Travels, wasn’t registered with the Amarnath board but confusion prevailed over the exact procedure to visit the holy shrine dedicated to Shiva. Many said that often, local vehicles were allowed to proceed to the Baltal camp without registration after some informal procedure, and that only pilgrims needed to register.
“They (Om Sai Travels) are not member of any of the four associations – Travel Agents Federation of India, Tours and Travels Operators’ Association of Gujarat, Indian Association of Tour Operators and Gujarat Association of Tour Operators,” Manish Sharma, managing director of Gujarat’s leading agency Akshar Travels and member of these associations, told HT.