'Under 13, above 75 years old can't undertake Amarnath Yatra'

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 10, 2013 15:20 hrs

Jammu, Feb 10 (IANS) Pilgrims under 13 and above 75 years of age as also women who are more than six weeks pregnant will not be allowed to undertake the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir, an official said Sunday.

The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) fixed the age for undertaking the annual Amarnath Yatra after deliberating on the recommendations made by the National Disaster Management Authority and Nitish K. Sengupta Committee, a board spokesperson said.

Last year, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had recommended that "no child under the age of 11 years, no person above the age of 75 years and no woman with more than six weeks' pregnancy should be allowed to undertake the pilgrimage," the SASB spokesperson added.

The NDMA recommendations came after it conducted Table Top exercises (facilitated analysis of an emergency situation) at the Baltal and Nunwan base camps en route to the shrine during Amarnath Yatra 2012.

The Sengupta panel, which was set up in 1996 to probe into the tragedy in which 243 people were killed during the pilgrimage, had also recommended that no person under the age of 15 years and above the age of 65 years should ordinarily be encouraged to undertake the journey.

According to the SASB, the fixing of age limit will help ensure that only physically fit people embark upon the arduous 55-day pilgrimage to the holy Himalayan cave shrine of Lord Shiva.

This year, the annual pilgrimage is scheduled to commence June 28 and conclude Aug 21.

The Amarnath shrine is located at 13,500 metres above sea level and is approachable by two routes - Pahalgam and Baltal.

The traditional route involves a trek of 46 km from Pahalgam, tourist resort 100 km south of Srinagar, while the route from Baltal, 110 km north of the Jammu and Kashmir summer capital, is shorter but quite steep and arduous.

Last year, over 100 pilgrims died while performing the pilgrimage. A group of doctors tasked to find the reasons reported that most of the deceased had either produced fake medical certificates or had not followed the rules.

The Supreme Court also took cognizance of the high number of deaths and asked the authorities responsible to ensure better arrangements for the pilgrimage.

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