Preserving ecology during Amarnath yatra top on agenda: Sinha

17 May 2008
The Daily Excelsior

Srinagar: Governor Lt. General (Retd) S K Sinha today cautioned against denuded forests in the country and said that all the resources are required to be put together to meet this national challenge. Interacting with a group of 22 Indian Forest Service probationers at Raj Bhavan this evening, the Governor called upon them to shoulder their responsibilities with a missionary zeal in ensuring the maintenance of the forest cover. He said misutilization and illicit felling of trees continues to be a big challenge which needs to be addressed at all the levels. In an hour long interactive session, the Governor replied to a volley of questions, mostly on tourism. On a specific question about tapping tourism potential of the Valley, the Governor said that over the years tourist influx has increased manifold. Against 28000 tourists in 2002, their number rose to five to six lakhs in recent year. 'So far this year, we have had nearly 1.5 lakh tourists to the Valley and their number may exceed previous year's figures by the end of this year', he said, adding that tourism has tremendous impact on the local economy, particularly key sectors like hotel industry, transport, business and handicrafts and so on. About pilgrim tourism, the Governor said that the State has benefited immensely from Shri Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage. The two-month pilgrimage to Shri Amarnathji yatra is beneficial to the economy of the local area. Over 75 lakh pilgrims visited the holy cave shrine on Trikuta Hills last year and the infrastructure is being upgraded to meet the requirements of 1 crore pilgrims annually. He said that he had got a survey conducted on the economic impact of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi yatra through Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, which revealed that the yatra was pushing in Rs 470 crores annually in Katra township at the base of Trikuta Hills. A similar study is proposed for Amarnath yatra, he added. To another question on Shri Amarnathji yatra, the Governor said that Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board accords the highest priority to ensure that no damage is caused to environment or ecology of the area. He said there is no forest cover around the cave shrine, situated at 13500 feet above seal level but adequate care is being taken to make the routes and camping sites as eco-friendly as possible. Extra care is being taken to ensure that wild life sanctuaries are not disturbed, he said, adding that the Board has geared up to take all possible measures for maintaining health and hygiene. 'Since 4 to 5 lakh pilgrims visit the Cave Shrine, we are trying to maintain high standards of hygiene', he said and urged them to visit Baltal and Pahalgam to see for themselves as forest officers what is being done to preserve the ecology.