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SASB says suggestion to reduce pilgrims ''strange logic''

Written by: Staff
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Srinagar, June 5 (UNI) The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) has termed as a ''strange logic'' the suggestion to restrict the number of pilgrims intending to visit the holy cave shrine ever year to check pollution and prevent environmental degradation. According to SASB Chief Executive Officer Arun Kumar, more than 62 lakh pilgrims visit Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine in Jammu every year, but never was any devotee blamed for environment pollution.

The pollution was caused largely by inadequate and unscientific infrastructure, he said, adding seeking reduction of pilgrims on this ground was an ''inexplicable reason and a strange logic''.

Dr Kumar said the Board would monitor the pollution level in Lidder River at the tourist resort of Pahalgam on weekly basis till the end of pilgrimage on the Raksha Bandhan day on August 9.

A representative of the SPCB would be invited to jointly check the pollution level, he said, adding an initial check would be held at the time of the commencement of the pilgrimage on June 11.

A weekly record would be maintained till the pilgrimage concludes on August 9, Dr Kumar added.

He expressed ignorance about any report prepared by the SPCB on ''ill-effects of the pilgrimage on environment''.

About media reports in this regard, Dr Kumar said the Board has neither received any such report nor consulted during its preparation.

On measures taken to preserve ecology in the area, he said the SASB was not allowed to put up any pre-fabricated shelter and hygienic toilets in 2004.

Instead, traditional open deep trench latrines raised by the state government were in use which had been a major source of pollution, he claimed.

In 2005, Dr Kumar said the Board was allowed to put up 900 pre-fabricated toilets with leach pits at a cost of Rs 1 crore.

However, that year again pre-fabricated toilets had not been allowed at Pahalgam, the CEO added.

In 2006, he said the SASB would put up 1600 pre-fabricated toilets with leach pits at all camps and on tracks having improved disposal of excreta through mixing bacteria converting it to manure and preventing foul smell.

Dr Kumar said no toilets had ever been erected by the SASB in the vicinity of the Lidder River. ''Therefore, there can be no pollution of the river on this account,'' he added.

The CEO said as compared to discharge of sewerage into the Dal Lake from houseboats and habitations in its periphery or into the River Lidder by hotels and other establishments in Pahalgam, the pollution control measures for pilgrimage were far superior.

''This year the yatra was yet to start and the question of pollution in River Lidder does not arise. The Board has already announced that polythene and plastic bags will not be taken to the holy cave and no waste will be allowed to be thrown into the river,'' he added.

Dr Kumar said pits would be dug up at camps for waste from langars (community kitchens) and other sources.

Minimum vehicular traffic would be allowed between Pahalgam and Chandanwari, the CEO said, adding devotees trek on this route or use ferry vehicles for two months during the pilgrimage.

''Elsewhere in other tourist spots such as Gulmarg and Sonamarg, much greater vehicular traffic movement takes place. Pollution to environment due to plying of vehicles on the Pahalgam-Chandanwari route is less than on roads to other tourist resorts,'' he added.

Dr Kumar said locals in Baltal and Pahalgam welcome the two- month-long pilgrimage as it gives a boost to the economy of both the areas. Labourers and tradesmen earn so much during the pilgrimage period that they are able to sustain for rest of the year, he added.

UNI AG VJ KN1500

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