NEW DELHI: As the situation in Kashmir valley continuous to be out of control with repeated incidents of terror attacks and intelligence inputs of more possible attacks, Indian army has decided to provide enhanced security cover to the upcoming Amarnath Yatra from beginning on June 29 and culminating on August 7. More than 14,000 additional security personnel from the Army, central para-military forces and the local police will be deployed all along the 300 km pilgrimage route and this strength is more than double of last year.
As major part of the yatra, a “high visibility” event in terms of magnitude of pilgrims from all over the country taking part in the pilgrimage, passes through parts of South Kashmir now witnessing stone pelting and militants attacking security forces, the Army and para-military forces were engaged in a massive exercise to ensure an incident free pilgrimage.
Admitting that providing protection to lakhs of people congregating during the nearly two-month long yatra is a huge challenge, officials said here on Saturday the Army plans to deploy two battalions(one battalion has 1,000 soldiers) along the sensitive sectors of the route.
Moreover, the central para-military forces including the Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force(BSF) proposed to deploy more than 100 companies(one company has 100 security men) all along the yatra route, they said. Last year, number of companies deployed was nearly half thereby underlining the “heightened threat perception to the high profile event,” officials said.
While the Army provides “prophylactic security,” the para-military forces and the local police will ensure security of the pilgrims and the route through which the yatra passes, they said. Explaining the meaning of prophylactic security, they said the Army battalions will provide cover from a distance as the Jammu and Kashmir police is the lead agency for security of the yatra.
The security forces including the Army and para-military forces will also step up search operations in the coming weeks before the yatra begins to exert pressure on militants to come out of their hideouts in the villages in restive South Kashmir and move to forests, they said. It is easier for the Army to go after the terrorists in the forests as the forces do not have to worry about collateral damage, they added.
Elaborating on the concept of prophylactic measures, sources said the Army conducts area domination drills on both sides of the route to deny militants moving freely and attempt to attack the yatra. This exercise in more preventive in nature, they said adding all the stake holders to provide security work according to laid down procedures and zones of responsibility.
Governor N N Vohra held the first meeting for co-ordination of this massive exercise on Friday in Srinagar and more such sessions will take place in the coming days to firm up the security grid. Additional companies of para-military forces and Army battalions will start moving in their defined sectors a fortnight before the yatra commences, officials said.
The annual pilgrimage has, fortunately not seen any untoward incident in the last one decade or so, they said adding militants had targeted the yatra last in 2003 and 2007. Given the scale of the event, livelihood of more than one lakh local traders and pony owners of Jammu and Kashmir depends on the yatra. In this back drop, militants, therefore, are reluctant to incur their wrath by fomenting trouble during the pilgrimage period, officials said.
The local business and pony owners suffered great losses last year as the yatra was affected in the wake of mass protests after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in July. About three lakh yatris could only visit the holy Amarnath shrine though the administration had expected that more than five lakhs will come, they said.