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BRO releases video of vehicles reaching Amarnath cave, Jammu and Kashmir parties raise ecological concerns | Srinagar News

In a social media post, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) showed vehicles reaching the Amarnath cave in the Kashmir Himalayas, saying that it “created history with the first set of vehicles reaching the holy cave”. The post has, however, triggered a controversy, with political parties in the Valley flagging ecological concerns.

Until now, the Himalayan cave shrine, situated at an altitude of more than 3,800 metres and visited by tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year during the summer months of June to August, was accessible only by foot.

“Project Beacon is involved in the restoration and improvement of Amarnath Yatra tracks. Border Roads personnel completed the formidable task and created history with the first set of vehicles reaching the holy cave,” said a post by the BRO on social media platform X. The post was accompanied by a video of vehicles moving towards the cave shrine.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said in a statement: “The move has prompted concerns over the reckless urbanisation of religious sites for political mileage, disregarding the ecological impact and the sacred ethos of Hindu pilgrimage.”

Mohit Bhan, general secretary of Youth PDP, said the move was a “crime” against Hinduism and “its faith in nature”.

“Hinduism is all about immersing in spiritual mother nature. That’s why our pilgrimages are in the lap of the Himalayas. Turning religious pilgrimages into picnic spots for mere political gains is worthy of condemnation. We have seen the wrath of god in Joshimath and Kedarnath and yet we are learning no lessons. Instead, (we) are inviting a catastrophe on Kashmir,” Bhan said in a post on X, in which he also tagged the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also criticised the move, saying it was an environmental issue. “The yatra has been going on for so many years, what was the need to take the vehicles there now….It is one thing to facilitate the yatra but it (making a road to the cave for vehicular movement) needs a serious rethink,” he said, adding that a road for vehicular traffic to the cave would mean destroying the area.

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The Amarnath cave shrine is situated at the far end of the ecologically fragile Lidder valley in the Kashmir Himalayas. The cave shrine is accessible through the towns of Pahalgam and Sonamarg. Most of the Valley’s glaciers are concentrated in the Pahalgam-Sonmarg range, including the Nenhar, Kolhai and the Bodpathri glaciers. The glacial water of the region is the major water source for the Lidder river, a major tributary of Jhelum, which runs across the Kashmir Valley.

While the annual pilgrimage has been going on for over a century, there have been concerns in the Valley regarding the government’s plans surrounding it.

In 2008, when the then government of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir allotted land to the Amarnath Shrine Board in Baltal, the Valley erupted in anger, leading to protests and the killing of more than 56 protesters in firing by police and paramilitary forces. The protests forced the government to rescind the allotment.

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In 2012, when some reports suggested that a road would be constructed to the cave shrine, the government was cautioned by many against any such move, arguing that it would “destroy the ecology” of the region. The government came up with a clarification, saying there was no such plan. The reports came in the wake of the Supreme Court, while taking suo motu cognizance of deaths on the cave route during the pilgrimage, observing that the government “can’t escape its obligation to provide minimum essential facilities including roads as an approach to the holy cave”.

In 1996, 243 Amarnath pilgrims were killed in a sudden blizzard along the route to the cave shrine. After the tragedy, the government set-up an inquiry committee headed by retired IAS officer Nitish Sengupta, which was tasked with suggesting measures to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies. The Sengupta report suggested spreading the yatra over 30 days and capping the number of pilgrims everyday to 3,400.

In 2022, 13 pilgrims were killed when flash floods hit near the cave shrine.

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