Seven people were killed and fourteen were injured as terrorists attacked a bus carrying Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in Anantnag in Kashmir on Monday night. In a statement after the attack, the Central Reserve Police Force’s (CRPF) Director General (DG) RR Bhatnagar told The Indian Express that “these yatris had not registered themselves” and “did not even become part of the Yatra convoy” which was supposed to be accompanied by a convoy of CRPF personnel.
Additionally, a CRPF statement said that the attacked bus was not registered with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).
But how is the Amarnath Yatra conducted? Are all pilgrims registered and their route mapped beforehand? If so, how were the victims of the attack not registered? And who is responsible for the security of the pilgrims’ transport?
Here’s a quick guide:
Strict Registration, Yatri Permits Given in Advance
According to the SASB registration procedure, aspiring Yatris must register themselves in a notified bank branch to obtain the Yatri permit. No one is allowed to undertake the Yatra without this permit. The Yatri permit is issued after a Compulsory Health Certificate (CHC) has been submitted, to determine the health of the aspiring Yatris.
There are two routes through which one can reach the Amarnath cave – the Baltal and the Pahalgam route. The Yatri permit issued to each pilgrim specifies the route of the pilgrimage, the date of travel, the address and contact information of the pilgrim.
Each permit has a colour-coded day (ie: Monday, Tuesday etc) on which the pilgrim is required to undertake the Yatra. This is the day on which the pilgrim is allowed to cross the Access Control Gate at Baltal. Before the permit is issued, the date on which the Yatri is travelling is specified.
It has been reported that the victims of the attack were returning from Baltal to Katra in Jammu after visiting the holy cave of Amarnath. But it is impossible to undertake the Yatra without a permit, so how were the victims “not registered”?
On Way to Amarnath, Security Envoy is Mandatory
The bus was attacked on the way from the Amarnath base camp in Baltal to Katra in Jammu. To reach the Amarnath base camp, a pilgrim can take a state roadway bus or use a private vehicle. According to information on the website, the journey from Jammu to Baltal is around 400 kilometers and passes through Anantnag, Srinagar and Sonmarg.
But these registered vehicles are not allowed on the road without a security envoy consisting of central paramilitary forces and J&K police. Here’s where conflicting narratives emerge.
According to a survivor of the attack, Yogesh Prajapati, the bus broke down after a tyre puncture forced it to halt. Additionally, according to The Quint’s ground report, because the bus had broken down for over an hour, they were forced to let go of the security cordon accompanying pilgrims.
For security reasons, buses are not allowed to ply after 7 pm. According to a report by the Jammu and Kashmir police to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in News18, the bus was a part of the convoy (and so, registered) and had “made an unscheduled stop for repairs.”
How Was the Bus Left Behind Without Any Security?
If this is the case, and the bus did stop, then the question is, how was the bus left behind by the security convoy without any security?
The second scenario is that the bus was not registered at all. But if this is true, then how is it possible for an unregistered and unsupervised vehicle to travel on a route where a heavy security presence is deployed (nearly 25,000 troops)?
The attack on Monday night is being called the worst terror attack on the Amarnath Yatra in the last 15 years; sparking a slew of unanswered questions. As the next batch of pilgrims continue to remain steadfast in their faith, the country waits for some answers.