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Security lapses may be the reason bus carrying Amarnath yatris came under attack

A top paramilitary officer said the highways are not guarded 24x7 and the troopers return to their barracks after sunset.

Kashmir Turmoil Updated: Jul 11, 2017 21:59 IST
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Hindustan Times, Jammu
Amarnath,Amarnath attack,Kashmir
The bodies of the pilgrims killed in the Anantnag attack, at the Surat airport.(HT Photo)

Security lapse is the talking point after militants killed seven pilgrims returning from the Amarnath shrine on Monday night and questions are asked on the efficacy of the multi-tier arrangement to guard the 40-day pilgrimage.

Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh acknowledged there were security lapses as a blame game began with the opposition questioning the government over “lack of action” on reported intelligence inputs about a possible attack on pilgrims.

A top paramilitary officer said the highways are not guarded 24x7 and the troopers return to their barracks after sunset.

“Security personnel along the highway are withdrawn soon after the official convoys of Amarnath pilgrims from Jammu reach base camps at Pahalgam in Anantnag district and Baltal in Ganderbal district,” he said.

The Gujarat-registered bus that was attacked in Anantnag was unescorted and the pilgrims were not registered with the Amarnath shrine board, which oversees the annual yatra.

Also, the busload of 60 people was travelling at night, which is again discouraged because of the heightened militancy in Kashmir. Registered buses with security convoys don’t travel after sunset.

“No vehicle of Amarnath yatris is supposed to move after sunset and that is why all the security forces and agencies worked out a time-table. The convoy from Jammu has to leave the Yatri Niwas camp at 3.30am. Similarly, pilgrims return in protected convoys from Pahalgam and Baltal,” the officer said.

Security is provided to official convoys that leave the Yatri Niwas camp for pilgrims in Jammu.

Questions are being asked how the bus was allowed to move after sunset on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, and if it was not stopped at all in any of check posts dotting the 294km road.

“Now, security personnel are deployed only when the convoys move on the highway, the 100km Srinagar-Pahalgam road and the 120km Srinagar-Baltal road. There are fixed timings,” the officer said.

Besides the pilgrim escorts, the CRPF and army soldiers are deployed in small formations on the highway. But they are withdrawn after dusk.

“Therefore, vehicles with registration numbers other than that of Jammu and Kashmir run a very high risk of being attacked and this is what happened in Batengoo on Monday night,” the officer said.

The lax security at night undermines the arrangement this year after intelligence agencies warned that militants were planning to target 100 policemen and as many pilgrims.

The government deployed more than 40,000 troops and used helicopters, drone-mounted surveillance cameras, jammers, dog squads, bullet-proof bunkers, satellite tracking devices and other gadgets in view of increased militancy incidents and violence in Kashmir.

The base camps in Pahalgam and Baltal are in Anantnag and Ganderbal districts, which are rife with militancy. Situated in a narrow gorge of Lidder Valley, the Amarnath shrine stands at 3,888 metres, 46km from Pahalgam and 14km from Baltal.

(with agency inputs)

First Published: Jul 11, 2017 21:27 IST