Pilgrimage to holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi ji has gone up by about two lakh during first five months of current year as compared to corresponding period last year even as police have beefed up security arrangements in holy town of Katra, the base camp of the shrine, 13 kilometers track and the Bhawan area.
In first five months, about 34.5 lakh pilgrims had darshan of natural pindies of Goddess Vaishno Devi in holy cave shrine inside Trikuta hills. During the same period last year, 32.47 lakh yatris had visited the Bhawan.
Yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in the month of May was almost equal like the last year. While this year, 8.7 lakh yatris visited the cave shrine, the figure for the last year was 8.65 lakh.
Additional CEO SMVDSB, Dr Mandeep K Bhandari said the yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine has increased by 2.03 lakh during first five months of this year.
The yatra was expected to pick up further in the months of June and July due to summer vacations and Amarnath yatra. Most of the pilgrims visiting Amarnath ji shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas also preferred to have darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi.
With the picking of rush, security arrangements at Katra, the Bhawan and the track have been beefed up with deployment of more police and CRPF personnel at vintage points.
SDPO Katra P N Tickoo said security has been stepped-up at the base camp of Katra and other places in view of heavy rush of yatris and some adverse inputs supplied by the security agencies. ``We are fully alert to the situation. Security has been intensified for the pilgrims. We are taking all care of the yatris’’, he added.
Mr Tickoo said police and para-military personnel to thwart the designs of anti-national elements have covered the mountains of Katra and Reasi surrounding the holy cave shrine.
Meanwhile, a number of pilgrims visiting the cave shrine have complained extortions from the hands of pithoos and ponneywallahs. They said that as against Rs 314 rate fixed for a mule from Katra to Bhawan and Rs 630 for return, they were extorting any thing between Rs 1500 to Rs 3000, or sometime, even more from the pilgrims especially those visiting the cave shrine from outside the State for the first time.
Some pithuwallahs have also started the similar practice.
Sources said all authorities including the Katra Municipality, which has been licensing pithoos, mules and poneywallahs, knew the extortions but there has been no action from anyone to save pilgrims from the loot.
Earlier, the Katra Municipality used to give the work of pithoos, poneywallahs and palkis on tenders. This time, however, the tenders haven’t been floated.
Katra Municipality Secretary Rattan Lal admitted that there had been complaints of overcharging by the pithoos and mule owners but said they have taken prompt action. The registration of erring mule owners was suspended and they were fined.
``In one case, we returned Rs 8000 (overcharged by the mule owners) from a Mumbai team by the Demand Draft’’, Rattan Lal said, adding that entire problem of overcharging will be over when their system of wi-fi is introduced shortly. For the system, two towers have already been installed at Adh-Kunwari and Bhawan while permission has been sought for installation of tower at Katra, he added.
About 87 lakh pilgrims had visited Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan in 2010, the highest ever in the history so far. If everything goes well, the yatra was easily expected to cross 9 million figure this year as it has already increased by about 2 lakh in first quarter of the year.
The Shrine Board was ultimately bracing up to receive 1 crore pilgrims a year to the cave shrine.
As against 87.2 lakh yatra in 2010, the number in 2009 was 82 lakh. In 2008, 67.92 lakh yatra was recorded while the number was 74.17 lakh in 2007. The pilgrimage was down in 2008 due to Amarnath land row agitation.
Even last year, the SMVDSB authorities were anticipating 9 million yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine but the number remained slightly less due to three month unrest during summer in the Kashmir Valley. The valley unrest also had impact on the yatra to Vaishno Devi Bhawan.
While 4,21,231 yatris had darshan of natural pindies of Goddess Vaishno Devi during January this year, the similar figure for previous year was 3,99,665. In February, the yatra came down slightly and stood at 3,69,755 as against 3,77,213 last year. In March, 7,55 lakh yatris paid obeisance to the Goddess as against 7.22 lakh last year. In April this year, 9.77 lakh pilgrims visited Mata’s Bhawan as against 8.35 lakh last year.