The much awaited annual Amarnath Yatra began today with the first batch of the pilgrims leaving Yatri Bhawan at Bhagwati Nagar Base Camp in Jammu at 5.10 am this morning.
Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Nirmal Singh flagged off the first batch in the presence of his cabinet colleagues and senior officials.
The first batch of pilgrims will have the “darshan” of the ‘ice lingam’ (stalagmite) at the holy cave shrine tomorrow.
The centuries-old Amarnath cave shrine of Lord Shiva is situated at a height of 12,756 ft.
The intelligence agencies have warned that the yatra is facing threats of militant attacks.
However, such reports have failed to dampen the spirit of the pilgrims.
The administration has made all security arrangements to make the yatra a big success.
"Intelligence input received from SSP Anantnag reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials," a letter sent by Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Zone) Muneer Khan to the Army, the CRPF, and range DIGs in the state stated.
"The input is assessed to be a HUMINT (human intelligence) and it needs further corroboration," the IGP said in the letter.
At this stage, the possibility of a sensational attack by a terrorist outfit cannot be ruled out, he said.
"The attack may be in the form of stand-off fire on yatra convoy which they believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation," the IGP said in the letter which is being circulated in many groups on Whatsapp.
All the officers and officials deployed on the ground need to remain alert and maintain utmost vigil, he added in the letter whose copy got leaked and went viral on social media.
Khan later tried to play it down, saying there was no need to panic as it was part of information being shared with agencies to check its authenticity.
Jammu and Kashmir DGP S P Vaid said someone has spread it on social media to create panic.
The government has mobilised a heavy security blanket of over 35,000 to 40,000 troops including the police, the Army, the BSF and the CRPF.
In addition to the existing strength of the CRPF in the state, the Centre has provided over 250 companies (25,000 personnel) of paramilitary forces to the state government.
The BSF has deployed over 2,000 troops for the yatra while the Army has provided 5 battalions (about 5000 personnel) and additional 54 companies (5400 personnel) of the police have also been mobilised.
"This Amarnath yatra will have the highest-ever security setup to ensure an incident-free yatra," said Special Director General of CRPF SN Shrivastava.
Asked about the intelligence warning, he said, "I will not like to discuss the issue in public but you are aware about the situation in Kashmir. We have taken measures as per the these intelligence inputs and have made appropriate security arrangements."
Describing the yatra as "a big challenge to us", he told reporters, "All security arrangements have been made in view of the threat perception... Elaborate security has been put in place for an incident-free yatra and to ensure safety and security of pilgrims and camps."
As a measure of security, satellite tracking system has been put in place for the safety of convoys carrying the pilgrims, said Mr Shrivastava, who visited the base camp along with CRPF IG Ashkoor Wani to review the preparations.
CCTV cameras, jammers, RoPs, dog squads, bullet-proof bunkers, QRTs, satellite tracking and other security gadgets are being used to maintain vigil in view of increased threat perception due to in increased terror incidents and violence in Kashmir.
BSF DG KK Sharma said in Kolkata, "The situation is very tense this year. This time there is a high level of threat perception. We have taken all precautions regarding deployment of forces and our commandos."
He added, "We will ensure that it passes off peacefully like previous years."
Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag Syed Abid Rasheed Shah said the authorities were cognizant of the security challenge and it had been conveyed to the security forces.
This year's yatra will be eight days shorter against the last years' of 48 days and conclude on Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) on August 7.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath shrine stands at 3,888 metres, 46 km from Pahalgam and 14 km from Baltal.
"The administration is working in close coordination with various agencies to ensure smooth conduct of yatra," said Deputy Commissioner Shah, who is also district yatra officer.
At a meeting, he took detailed account of the arrangements put in place at base camp Nunwan, including the medical facilities, ration, accommodation, sanitation, power drinking water and communication to cater the rush of pilgrims.
He said 450 tents have to be established at base camp Nunwan, out of which 271 have been pitched so far.
The meeting was also informed that a 10-bedded hospital at Nunwan and 20-bedded hospital at Chandanwari have been established besides, ensured availability of adequate stock of life saving drugs and oxygen cylinders, an official spokesman said.
Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) of the state police along with rescue teams of various security forces have been pressed into service along with well-equipped fire fighting teams at pre-determined points, officials said.
Oxygen cylinders, ECG machines, defibrillators, oxygen concentrators, CPR machines, X-ray machines, ventilators, resuscitation sets have been installed and all required medicines are available are the hospital.
At Baltal Base Hospital, Mr Shrivastava interacted with doctors deputed from Safdarjang Hospital, Delhi, who are already treating the local residents and service providers.
Residential accommodation and mess facilities for about 250 medical personnel, including those arriving from different parts of the country, to provide medical assistance for the pilgrims have also been put in place.
(With agency inputs)