Amarnath Yatra Delay: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Plays Peacemaker

Amarnath Yatra Delay: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Plays Peacemaker

5 June 2012
India Today


Srinagar: Religious leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Tuesday came out in support of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and the Jammu and Kashmir government to prevent right-wing Hindu activists from proceeding towards the Amarnath cave shrine, stressing that lives of thousands of yatris can't be put at risk. The pilgrim route, which crosses icy streams, goes around glacier-fed lakes and reaches an altitude of 3,800 metres, where the sacred shrine is located, is still covered under a thick layer of snow. In a statement, Ravi Shankar said the weather situation was very dangerous for the pilgrimage. 'We had a detailed discussion in which the state government and the Army presented the weather conditions and the time it takes to clear the path. Only after taking serious consideration of logistics, weather conditions and the preparedness to host thousands of Yatris was it decided to commence the Yatra towards the end of June, this year,' said Ravi Shankar. 'As of today, there is 5-10 feet of uncleared snow. We cannot risk the lives of thousands of people without any infrastructure. We want the Yatra to be safe and comfortable for people. Better toilets and medical facilities are being planned this year. Even on Jyestha Purnima day, the symbolic Puja could not be held in the cave due to the snow. It was done in Chandanwari glacier,' he added. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had earlier created a controversy by saying that God was responsible for a delay in the commencement of the Amarnath Yatra this year. 'Actually right now God is stopping you because there is so much snow on the route that it is not possible to move on the route,' Abdullah tweeted in response to a comment posted by one of his follower on microblogging site twitter. In a subsequent tweet, Omar said, 'I wish the organisers of what is happening in Jammu would take up our offer and fly over the route in the state chopper to see extent of snow. But of course they won't because the truth is inconvenient, as is acceptance of the fact that yatra dates were set by Sri Sri Ravishanker ji. 'I'm happy to engage all those who are concerned about the duration of the yatra, but there isn't one person on twitter criticising me using facts,' Omar added. On Monday, VHP activists and state BJP leaders, including a Memeber of Parliament Tarun Vijay, courted arrest in Jammu after they were prevented from proceeding towards the Amarnath cave by the administration. Vijay criticized the curtailment of the Amarnath Yatra duration to 37 days and accused the chief minister and Governor of bowing to pressure from anti-India forces. 'Weather cannot be an excuse for curtailing the Yatra duration. It is a lame excuse and a clear indication that the government was acting at the behest of anti-India forces,' he said. But Omar hit back, tweeting: 'That's where you go wrong. The dates of the yatra are determined by the shrine board not by the state government.' To another follower, who had written 'serious conspiracies to kill Hindutva by reduced Yatra to 37 days from 60 days by Moslem', Omar responded saying: 'Actually it was reduced by a committee headed by Sri Sri Ravishanker ji but that bit of truth doesn't suit you, does it.' In February this year, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board accepted Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Committee recommendations on duration of yatra in 2012 and beyond. The committee had recommended yatra duration for 37 days beginning from June 25. It would conclude on August 2, coinciding with Raksha Bandhan. Right-wing Hindu organisations, including the VHP, are demanding the early start of pilgrimage, which is due to start officially on June 25. The yatra duration is a critical issue in the state. While saffron groups want an extended duration, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and the separatists are citing environmental concerns to curtail the schedule. 'We are not against the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave. They are our guests. But we want its duration to be curtailed to the original 15 days,' a leader said . 'Extending the Yatra to two months has threatened our ecology and environment.' In 2011, the SASB had curtailed the schedule due to harsh weather conditions prevailing in the first fortnight of the yatra during the past few years. The VHP had opposed the move. Last year, 107 yatris lost their lives due to harsh weather during the pilgrimage.