In a first, Amarnath pilgrims to be tagged for a safe trek

In a first, each of the 300,000-odd pilgrims expected to visit the Amarnath Shrine this year will be tracked from the base camp to the shrine and back, using a unique card, even as nearly 45,000 security personnel will be deployed to protect them, a senior home ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

The annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine begins on July 1.

“Each pilgrim will be personally tracked through a unique card. The cards will be given to them when they set out from the base camp and they will have to swipe at five locations leading up to the cave,” the officer said, adding, “The card readers are being installed on both routes.”

The Amarnath Cave can be approached from two routes – Baltal and Pahalgam. The former is 14 km whereas the other route is 42 km long.

“The personal trackers will give the exact location of the pilgrim, indicate which part the pilgrims are crossing for the entire route. “It will help us track them adding to the security and also help us in crowd management,” the official said.

Last year, all vehicles from different states carrying pilgrims were radio-tagged. The radio frequency identification tags of vehicles carrying pilgrims helped the administration map the entire journey — from the moment they entered the state to base camps.

Besides tags and personal trackers, nearly 320 companies of the paramilitary force — each company comprising about 100 policemen — are being deployed to secure the Yatra. In addition, the Jammu and Kashmir Police will also be deploying thousands of men as well. This is the largest ever deployment of security personnel to secure the yatra in recent years.

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is alone deploying nearly 150 companies whereas the Border Security Force (BSF) will be deploying about 70 companies.

Besides, the Indian Army will deploy between 3-4 battalions — each comprising about 650-700 soldiers — to secure the mountain ridges along Yatra. Helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will also be pressed into service.

Security agencies, however, have not flagged any specific threat to the Yatra this year. “Like last year, security agencies haven’t picked up any specific threat to Yatra, but the general threat to security forces remain,” a second senior official with the ministry of home affairs (MHA) asking not to be named.

Last year, terrorists had opened fire on security forces at Anantnag but failed to inflict any damage.

In 2017, terrorists had attacked a bus carrying pilgrims – when it violated the route and time restrictions.

As many as 12 pilgrims were killed in the attack.The cave shrine houses an ice stalagmite that waxes and wanes and devotees believe the structure symbolises Lord Shiva, the Hindu god. It was discovered by a Muslim shepherd in the 15th century.

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