Normalcy in Jammu improves pilgrim visits to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine

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Katra (Jammu and Kashmir), Sept 10 : With violence ending in the Jammu region, the number of pilgrims visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine is on the rise.

A sharp dip in the number of pilgrim visits was witnessed in the last two months owing to the frequent shutdowns and imposition of curfew.

However, with the resolution of the forest land row, the first week of September has seen atleast 17,000 people undertaking the pilgrimage to pay obeisance to the Vaishno Devi shrine.

"In the last two months, the number of pilgrims had reduced drastically. It was almost nil. But now, the agitation is over, people are coming back again and in the last 2-3 days, there were over 17,000-18, 000 pilgrims," claimed Jugul Sharma, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Katra.

Katra annually receives about five million pilgrim tourists. It serves as the base camp for pilgrims, who after a halt, undertake the 14-kilometer long trek to the shrine.

Sandeep Singh, a pilgrim, said: "Now, things are normal, the pilgrimage is back on track and slowly, the rush is also increasing. There is no problem here at all, no strike, nothing. People are coming here and offering their prayers peacefully. Even the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board and the Government are coordinating to ensure all facilities are in place."

The pilgrimage is a huge revenue source for the state, which has witnessed slump in its tourism business because of shrine row stir. Rupees 450 crore is injected into the Katra economy alone every year.

It is likely to touch Rs. 72.28 lakh in 2009 and Rs. 86 lakhs in 2015 as against Rs. 69.05 lakh presently. The pilgrimage provides employment to about 27,000 people.

In July and August, Jammu was reeling from violent protests, demonstrations and shutdowns over the transfer of forestland to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

The State Government reached an agreement with the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti to let the shrine board use 40-hectares of land temporarily during the period of the pilgrimage.

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