Expert panel to study Amarnath yatra impact on Kashmir economy

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Srinagar, Sep12: An expert committee would soon be constituted to carry out a detailed survey on the impact of annual two-month- long Amarnath pilgrimage on Kashmir economy.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha announced this here last evening at a function organised to give away certificates and mementos to those who helped in smooth conduct of the two-month Amarnath pilgrimage, which began on June 30 to end on August 28. He said the committee would be formed on the same analogy as had been done to conduct the survey on the impact of Vaishno Devi pilgrimage on Jammu economy.

Gen Sinha, who is also the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) chairman, said elaborate measures had been taken this year to ensure smooth pilgrimage with special emphasis on preservation, pollution and ecology. No deep trench latrine was allowed to be established and instead 20,000 pre-fabricated toilets and bathrooms were raised at a cost of Rs two crore, he added. ''We ensured that no pollution is caused during the two-month- long annual pilgrimage in south Kashmir,'' the Governor said.

He described the pilgrimage incident free and complimented the state government, Army, security forces and police for successful completion of the pilgrimage. He also lavished praises on the people of Kashmir for their whole- hearted support during the pilgrimage. ''It reflects the deep bonds of brotherhood and amity in the land of Sufis and saints. Amity and secularism is ingrained in the basic character of the people. The Amarnath yatra is a symbol of composite culture of Kashmir.''

Speaking on controversies and economy benefits

On controversies that surrounded the pilgrimage, Gen Sinha said everybody has freedom of expression in a democratic country. The views expressed would be taken in the right perspective and necessary corrective measures adopted to make the pilgrimage smooth and comfortable in future, he added.

The Governor also referred to the early melting of 'Shivalingam' at the holy cave shrine of Amarnath, saying various possibilities were being explored for preservation of the ice stalagmite without touching or tampering with it. However, he said consensus would be evolved before putting in place the required mechanism so that the religious sentiments of the people were not hurt.

No decision has been taken as yet in this regard, Gen Sinha said, adding despite early melting of the ice-lingam, the faith and fervour of the pilgrims did not get diminished substantiated by the fact that a record number of pilgrims paid obeisance at the shrine this year as compared to 2006. He said a mechanism would soon be evolved to reduce inconvenience caused to tourists on their visit to Pahalgam during the two months.

Speaking on the occasion, SASB Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Arun Kumar said more than three lakh pilgrims paid obeisance at the holy cave shrine this year despite controversies and the premature melting of ice-lingam by June 30 only. ''These controversies unfortunately get raised every year.'' He said the figure touched 3.25 lakh as several pilgrims undertook the journey on helicopters. ''This is slightly higher than last year's figure of 2.90 lakh pilgrims, but less than 3.73 lakh in 2005 and about 4 lakh in 2004,'' Dr Kumar added.

During the current pilgrimage, the CEO said a donation of Rs 2.50 crore were offered against last year's Rs 2.38 crore. The effort to involve locals in the pilgrimage gained momentum as all necessary services such as ponies, dandies, pithus and other utility services were carried out by them. ''This will continue.'' About helicopter services, Dr Kumar said it proved to be very popular as the ticket sales touched Rs 13.66 crore against last year's Rs 11 crore. He also made a mention of the economic benefits of Amarnath and Vaishno Devi pilgrimages on the economy of the state.

A study on pilgrimage

''According to a recent study by IIT Delhi, the economic impact of 70 lakh pilgrims in Katra has been to the tune of Rs 670 crore annually which works out to Rs 670 per capita. Since the Amarnath pilgrims on an average spend double the time taken for Vaishno Devi yatra, this figure touches around Rs 1340 per capita during the pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas.'' For three lakh devotees, the amount thus spent must be around Rs 40 crore, Dr Kumar said.

The CEO said 42 pilgrims, including a Muslim devotee from Ajmer, died during the Amarnath pilgrimage. The oldest deceased pilgrim was 82 years of age and the youngest 13. Last year, 45 devotees had died during the two-month-long pilgrimage, he added.

The Governor later gave away mementos and certificates to 120 officers and personnel of the civil administration, the Army, BSF, CRPF, Jammu and Kashmir Police, Telecom Department and others besides cash awards to workers engaged in maintenance of sanitation and hygiene at base camps and other places enroute the holy shrine.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary C.Phunsog and XV Corps General Officer-in-Commanding Lt Gen A S Sekhoon besides Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Mehboob Iqbal were present on the occasion. The gathering also observed a two-minute silence in memory of those who died during the pilgrimage.


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