Rajat Sharma

NGT caps number of pilgrims to Vaishno Devi shrine

The NVDational Green Tribunal on Monday capped the number of pilgrims visiting the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine daily to 50,000. Additional pilgrims will be stopped at Ardhakuwari or Katra town, the NGT said. The tribunal said that Vaishno Devi Bhavan cannot accomodate more than 50,000 pilgrims at a time.

It also directed that horses or mules should not be allowed on the new route to the shrine, and they should be removed gradually from the old route as well. Mata Vaishno Devi shrine is visited by lakhs of pilgrims every year. During peak season, the number reaches 40,000 to 50,000, while during lean season, it hovers around 6,000. Crores of Hindus revere this shrine. The path to the shrine was modernized during the tenure of Jagmohan, the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Horses or mules are used for the benefit of old and infirm pilgrims who find it difficult to walk, and the NGT should reconsider its order. Hundreds of porters and mule owners make their living by transporting old and infirm pilgrims to the shrine. It seems nobody has thought about putting their livelihood in jeopardy. Moreover, the influx of tourists and pilgrims provides employment to thousands of people who are residents of Kashmir.

One should understand that the Mata Vaishno Devi Trust not only looks after the shrine, but also runs Mata Vaishno Devi University, nursing college, gurukul and Vaishno Devi Narayan Hospital. The daily earnings amount to Rs 40 lakhs and the annual earnings go up to Rs 500 crore. If the number of pilgrims is capped, it will adversely affect the earnings. Probably the NGT was not told that the Trust itself stops issuing entry permits when there is a large influx of pilgrims, in order to ensure safety for all. The NGT should holisitically re-examine its directions.

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