Serving the faith

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The conduct of the Amarnath pilgrimage is a garguntaun task every year. A huge number of government employees from almost all the departments have to be deployed for the safety and services of pilgrims. Suhail A Shah finds out how it impacts the functioning of services to the common masses.

Myriad Tents rested in Amarnath

Myriad Tents rested in Amarnath

The Indian System of Medicines (ISM) dispensary in the Gudidraman constituency is the only healthcare facility for the people of this village in Duroo, but for more than a week now the lone pharmacist at the dispensary has been taking care of the patients as the doctor posted there continues to be deployed at a medical camp along the Amarnath Yatra route.

“The threat that the Amaranth Yatra poses to the fragile environment of Kashmir has been very well known for quite a long time now. What is almost never talked about is the amount of burden this forty day long affair puts on the state administrative machinery including the all-important Health sector, particularly of the Islamabad district,” says Imtiyaz Sheikh, a member of a civil society group in Islamabad district.

According to the district officials, it’s not just these forty days that remain hectic for them. The preparations for the Yatra begin almost a month prior to its commencement and then nearly the same amount of time to get their houses back in order.

“We have somehow got used to the whole exercise but the people of the district continue to remain the worst hit in the whole scheme of things,” said a high level official of the district administration, wishing not to be named.

The departments, whose sizeable chunk of manpower and machinery remains dedicated to the yatra, are Power Development Department (PDD), Public Health Engineering (PHE), Information services, Fire Services, Food and Supplies, JKTDC, Animal Husbandry, Labour, Forest, Police, Revenue, Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) and most important of them all, the Health Department, including the Indian System of Medicines (ISM).

Kashmir Life talked to the officials of each of these departments and all of them unanimously agree that the working of their departments suffers a great deal but at the same time maintain that the Yatra too is an important part of their working which they cannot shun.

“The employees engaged with the Yatra face worst kind of stress during these days. Three agencies monitor their working round the clock,” said a district level official.

According to the official every department’s working continues to be scrutinised by their own higher authorities, the civil administration and the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) responsible for overall conduct of the annual pilgrimage.

Amarnath casualities-Photo:Bilal Bahadur

Amarnath casualities-Photo:Bilal Bahadur

“If something happens to an employee of ours, nobody gives a damn but what is of utmost priority is the wellbeing of the Yatris,” added the official.

Some departments, like the Labour Welfare, call the posting of their employees at the base camps a dire necessity despite agreeing to the fact that it hampers the working of their departments.

“Only a couple of days back some Langar (community kitchen) wallahs refused to pay a group of labourers working for them since the commencement of the Yatra and that’s where we had to intervene,” said Deputy Labour Commissioner, Altaf Andrabi.

A casual enquiry reveals that the least number of employees from a department, deployed at various base camps along the Yatra Trek, is 18 which in some cases is as high as 50 employees.

But the worst hit of them all however remains by far the already under staffed health sector.

“We have right now 35 doctors and 200 paramedics deployed at various stations along the Amarnath Trek, “said Chief Medical Officer, Islamabad, Dr Gulzar Ahmad.

Although the doctors and the paramedics are deployed on a rotation basis but the toll it takes on them is hard to fathom, “This is the most hectic schedule a doctor has to go through. We have to work day in and day out, and despite that nobody is pleased with the work we do,” said a doctor who recently came back after his stint at a base camp along the pilgrimage route.

Likewise, 18 employees of the ISM department are deployed at five camps, “We have eight doctors and 12 paramedics working with the Yatra right now,” said Dr Sujad Shuja, ADMO Islamabad.

The other essential services like the PDD and the PHE, particularly their Bijbehara divisions, have to deal with hectic schedules.

“Right now we have 42 of our employees deployed with the Yatra and besides the electricity concerns they have to manage supplies of kerosene and diesel. It’s a herculean task and our employees are doing a commendable job,” said Muneeb Ahmad, Executive Engineer, Electric division Bijbehara.

He adds that PDD’s working with the Yatra is a more than two months affair and their already under staffed department suffers a great deal.

“For us 42 people means a lot keeping in view the shortage of manpower we have in our essential service department,” said Muneeb.

The PHE, whose job is to ensure water supply to the Yatris, remain engaged with the affair for more than two months, “We have to lay the water supply pipes and remove them once the Yatra is over and in the meantime have to ensure uninterrupted water supply throughout. It takes a lot of manpower and machinery,” said an official of the PHE department.

The locals meanwhile wait anxiously for the Yatra to get over with so that they can get their pending works done, “I don’t visit any office these days for the fear of the time consumed to get even petty things done. What usually takes half a day in a government office, gets done in almost a week these days,” says Tawseef Ahmad, a contractor working with the PHE.

All other services get similarly affected for two months every year during the conduct of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage.

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