Millennium Post

Distressing pilgrim deaths

The death of many dozens of pilgrims on the Amarnath yatra is distressing. The holy Amarnath cave, located in Jammu and Kashmir, is sacred to a very large percentage of this country's population and attracts many thousands of pilgrims. It may be imagined that given the significance and holiness of this site, and of the importance of the yatra, foolproof and excellent arrangements would be in place so that the pilgrimage could be completed with relative ease. This is not the case and the results are there to see. The numbers of those who have died may have crossed 80 this year and it is not only the old or the infirm who have been so affected. It is also the young and those who are in excellent physical condition, such as soldiers. In the latest incident relating to the Amarnath
yatra
15 pilgrims have died when a bus carrying them skidded off the Srinagar Jammu highway. Earlier, others have died due to sickness that has been brought on by the conditions of the yatra. These deaths are not an isolated phenomenon for they occur each year with a distressing regularity. Last year a record high 105 deaths took place, with the number this year likely to surpass this figure, if the current trend of deaths continues.These deaths are easy to predict, yet the government of Jammu and Kashmir, or the central government for that matter, are lackadaisical when it come to providing facilities for the
yatris.
The situation is so bad that the Supreme Court has, this week, taking suo motu cognisance of newspaper reports, and issued a notice to the union government and the state government, amongst others, seeking to ask them several pertinent questions regarding the facilities offered to the pilgrims.

The court has said that 'the time intervening the previous and the current year clearly demonstrates that the authorities have not taken any effective and appropriate measures for protecting the life of thousands of devotees who visit the holy cave during this limited period, despite the print media repeatedly bringing this to the notice of all concerned.' The court has also noted that the authorities were expected to make appropriate arrangements for
darshan
at the holy cave so as to avoid health hazards and injuries, and provide proper paths and one-way system passages to the pilgrims to the holy cave. As the Supreme Court has noted, the authorities cannot escape their responsibility and obligation to provide the minimum essential facilities. No doubt, the court will act under Article 21 of the constitution, under which a person has a right to live with dignity and not be subjected to inhuman treatment, to protect the pilgrims. Yet it is for the authorities to take action on their own initiative to save human lives, and not wait for the court's direction.
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