Various measures are in place at famous Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine atop Trikuta hills in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir to tackle heavy rush of pilgrims and avoid any untoward incident, an official said on Sunday. Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) has also issued guidelines for strict adherence to the COVID-19 guidelines as a precautionary measure, the official said.
In a first-ever stampede at the shrine on January 1 this year, 12 pilgrims lost their lives and 16 were injured, prompting the shrine board to introduce Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as part of various projects sanctioned for the convenience of the pilgrims, better crowd management and tracking of the yatris along the 13-km track and the 'Bhawan' (sanctum sanctorum).
"The shrine is ready to meet heavy rush of devotees around New Year. A strategy has been chalked out to ensure smooth regulation of expected influx of pilgrims, decongestion of entire track, particularly the Bhawan area, and all-time surveillance through CCTV dedicated network of over 500 cameras," a shrine board official said.
He said enforcement teams of the board are being deployed for four days at the Bhawan from December 30 to January 2 to keep an eye on the number of pilgrims to avoid crowding. The dedicated teams will also ensure that the pilgrims, except those having valid accommodation slips, return to the base camp Katra immediately after having 'Darshan' at the shrine.
The official said the shrine board has also identified four holding areas – one each at Katra, Ardhkuwari, Sanjichha and Manokamana area – to accommodate the pilgrims if their number increases beyond the daily limit of 50,000. Earlier, Chief Executive Officer, SMVDSB Anshul Garg said the RFID-based yatra registration cards have been started with the focus to enhance not only the security but also ensure real time tracking of pilgrims on the track enroute Bhawan for better regulation of the pilgrims in accordance with the holding capacity of the trek and the shrine area (Bhawan).
He emphasized the security agencies not to allow any pilgrims without a valid RFID card for which additional handheld scanners may be put to use with sufficient staff to plug any shortfall. On the concern about COVID-19, the official said all the stakeholders have been advised to wear masks while dealing with the yatris. The shrine board has made wearing of face masks mandatory for every pilgrim attending the 'Atka Arti' and in the 'darshan queue', the official said.
On Friday, Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta at a meeting had said there is no need to panic in view of rising COVID-19 cases in neighbouring countries as no surge have been reported so far in the Union Territory. However, Mehta enjoined upon the health experts to take preemptive measures so that the administration is fully prepared to meet any contingency.
He asked them to activate all the Covid testing facilities so that any person desiring to test finds the facility nearby. He impressed upon them to create ample awareness among the public so that no unnecessary scare is created among them. According to officials, there is currently no bed occupancy related to Covid in the health facilities in the Union Territory.