Why focus on businesses, not on pilgrims?: NGT raps Amarnath
Two days after capping the number of daily visitors to Vaishno Devi reportedly over environmental concerns, the NGT has now turned its attention to Amarnath in J&K. The body rapped the shrine board for not providing pilgrims basic facilities like toilets, but allowing extra shops near the site. It also said the area should be declared a "silent zone" to prevent avalanches. Read more.
In 2012, the SC had taken suo motu cognizance of media reports on Amarnath pilgrims' deaths allegedly due to lack of proper facilities. Observing it had become a regular occurrence, the court had ordered a committee to suggest measures to check the trend. The NGT has now given the shrine board till December to submit a report on the steps it has taken.
The green tribunal has also formed an expert committee to recommend to the Amarnath board an action plan on implementing facilities to be provided to pilgrims. It will be headed by the additional secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It will consider issues like providing a proper path to the shrine, declaring it a 'silent zone' and installing eco-friendly toilets.
This year, visitorship during the 40-day Amarnath Yatra in July-August suffered after terrorists opened fire on a pilgrims' convoy. Seven were killed. In the aftermath, tourists cancelled their plans and tour operators withdrew their travel packages to Kashmir. Apart from terrorism, demonetization and GST have also hit footfall, locals said. According to MoS Finance Ajay Nanda, tourists to Vaishno Devi have fallen by 15-20%.