Terror Threat Fails To Deter Pilgrims
2 August 2007
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Notwithstanding threat perception, there has been no let up in pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan with 30 lakh pilgrims paying obeisance at the holy shrine in Trikuta hills during last four months alone while April, May and June, called as the peak season, recorded number of devotees at over seven lakh every month. Target of 70 lakh pilgrims, which was narrowly missed last year, is likely to be achieved this year going by the present trend of yatra, official sources said. Last year, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) had missed 70 lakh target of pilgrims by few thousand. However, this year, the Board is hopeful of achieving or even surpassing the target. During first seven months of this year, over 40 lakh pilgrims have already had darshan of the widely revered shrine, located at a height of 5,200 feet from the sea level. The number excludes the pilgrims flying to the shrine, which is calculated at the end of the year. As many as 7.09 lakh pilgrims performed yatra to the cave shrine, about 13 kms from Katra in he month of July this year. The number was even more at 9.35 lakh in the month of June. April and May had recorded the number of yatris at 5.68 lakh and 7.77 lakh respectively. In January, February and March this year, 2.84 lakh, 2.46 lakh and 4.82 lakh pilgrims trekked to the holy shrine, about 13 kms from Katra, to offer prayers to the Goddess. Figures for the corresponding period last year i.e. first seven months were also nearly the same. The highest number of pilgrims visiting the shrine in a month still stood for the month of June 2006 at 9.37 lakh. In June this year, 9.35 lakh pilgrims went to the Bhawan. June remained favourite month of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims, mainly due to summer vacations in educational institutions. Figures for the month of June have constantly been rising since 2002 when 4.66 lakh pilgrims had visited the shrine. The number went upto 7.41 lakh in 2003, 7.89 lakh in 2004, 8.57 lakh in 2005 and 9.37 lakh in 2006. Presently, about 20,000 pilgrims were arriving daily at base camp of Katra to perform pilgrimage. According to sources, the figures for last couple of months were a clear indication that the pilgrims were undeterred by heightened threat perception to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. The yatris were moving freely in Katra town and undertaking their 13 km journey, enjoying every moment fearlessly. Recently, the Central Intelligence agencies had said that Mata Vaishno Devi shrine figured among few shrines of the country which were on hit list of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which want to foment trouble across the country. In view of the reports, two high level security review meetings have been held at Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan and Katra in less than a month, the one personally chaired by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. Security arrangements at Katra, 13 km track, Bhawan and Bhairon Ghati were put at maximum and the pilgrims should have no concerns on account of security, SP Katra Ashok Sharma said.