A meeting of the sub-committee constituted by the Supreme Court for Shri Amarnathji Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir was held under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary, BVR Subrahmanyam on this day, where it was asserted that the upcoming event will have to be undertaken in a "restricted manner" due to the COVID-19 pandemic
While reviewing the preparations for Shri Amarnathji Yatra 2020, the Chief Secretary observed that in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Executive Committee constituted under the Disaster Management Act has issued Standard Operating Protocols (SoPs) which, inter alia, prescribe 100% RTPCR test for all persons travelling into J&K.
He added that all entrants into J&K will have to be sampled, tested, and quarantined until they are reported to be negative. The Chief Secretary further said that the camping facilities earlier utilized for the Yatris, especially at entry points are currently being utilized as quarantine centers. He emphasised that SoPs for the testing of persons entering J&K shall apply to Yatris as well. Besides, social distancing norms would further strain these holding capacities.
The Chief Secretary said that in keeping with these circumstances, the Yatra this year would have to be undertaken in a restricted manner so that the SoPs for COVID-19 are strictly adhered to during the conduct of the Yatra.
During the meeting, the Chief Secretary was briefed by the concerned departments with regard to the status of works including up-gradation/improvement along the track from Baltal to Holy Cave at Kali Mata and emergency exit track from Sangam, execution of works relating to stabilization of hill slopes near the Holy Cave, installation of railings along critical stretches of the track, construction of additional Helipads at Lower Holy Cave and construction of sanitization tunnels at Neelgrath Helipad, Baltal, and Domel.
The Chief Secretary also reviewed the strengthening of footbridges and routine works, such as the installation of bailey bridges, milestones, up-gradation of remaining 1.25 km of road from Baltal Base Camp to Domel by laying pre-cast concrete blocks and laying of tiles on remaining 95-meter stretch of alternate road from Neelgrath to Baltal.
Financial Commissioner Health also gave a brief with regard to routine healthcare as also additional arrangements being made, keeping in view the present Coronavirus pandemic situation. It was informed that adequate stock of drugs, consumable items, sleeping bags, besides PPE kits and masks are being made available to the doctors and paramedical staff being deployed for Yatra duty. He apprised that two base Hospitals are also being established along the Baltal route.
However, he was concerned about the stress in the medical system because of the Yatra. Nine out of ten Kashmir districts are red and the entire medical system is fully stretched in handling the challenge. No doctors would be available from outside J&K for the Yatra this year. Isolation facilities will have to be created to ensure any COVID-19 challenges are addressed on an emergent basis at the Camp itself. Also, COVID and high altitude sickness symptoms are quite similar and all cases will have to be treated as deemed COVID positive in case of an emergency. Also, special arrangements will have to be made for handling dead bodies.
Given the constraints, a maximum of 500 yatris only could be allowed per day by road from Jammu. Therefore, arrangements will have to be limited to this number.
It was informed that Baba Amarnath Aarti this year will be telecast live on Doordarshan. Chief Secretary emphasised that adequate arrangements should be made to ensure uninterrupted telecast of the Aarti.
With regard to the security arrangements, the Chief Secretary asked the Police department to ensure the effective regulation of Yatra at access control gates. He emphasised that all deployments in relation to security, rescue, and fire and emergency need to be in place well in time.