SRINAGAR: As Kashmir’s Srinagar-based head priest Mir-waiz Umar Farooq spoke openly against the controversial comment that ‘Amarnath Yatra can go on throughout the year’ made by the Minister of State (MoS) Jitendra Singh in Srinagar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continues to maintain silence on the issue.

While addressing a press conference on June 4, Jitendra Singh said “scientific surveys suggest that that the pilgrimage (Amarnath Yatra) can go on throughout the year”.

This immediately prompted a strong reaction from chairman of a faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Umar Farooq.

Farooq said that conducting the pilgrimage throughout the year was “unacceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Delivering his customary Friday sermon at Srinagar’s Jama Masjid, the head priest said that “the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders must stop linking Kashmir’s ecology and environment with their national interest.”

On the other hand, there has been no statement issued by any of the PDP leaders on the matter, hinting that the party might be facing pressure due to its alliance with the BJP.

Meanwhile, Jitendra Singh while commenting of the recent attacks aimed at cellular towers in North Kashmir and Srinagar had also said that these attacks were might have been aimed at disrupting the Amarnath Yatra.

“It has been a practice for the last few years that some anti-national elements start disruptive activities ahead of the Amarnath Yatra”, he had said.

Amarnath Pilgrimage is an annual event managed by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) by the virtue of J&K Shri Amarnathji Shrine Act of 2000. The SASB is directly headed by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, who is also ex-officio Chairman of the shrine board.

Environmentalists have been expressing serious concern over the duration of the holy pilgrimage and also the number of pilgrims that visit the ecologically fragile zones of Baltal and Pahalgam each year.

In 2006 the J&K State Pollution Control Board (JKSPCB) had documented in its 37-page detailed report about the environmental concerns caused by the Yatra.

The colossal waste produced by nearly half-a-million pilgrims each year are not only defiling ecologies of Baltal and Pahalgam but also causing immense harm to once pristine Lidder River that flows through the region, the report suggested.

In 2013 around 600,000 Amarnath Yatris had paid a visit to the holy cave.

The JKSPCB, in its 2006 annual report, had also made several recommendations which included regulation of the pilgrimage, its duration and measures to protect the environment.

The report distinctly raised alarm about the situation in Pahalgam, the main base camp of the Yatra, and called for immediate measures to protect the sensitive ecology of the Pahalgam valley.

There are also some concerns regarding the duration of the yatra.

The Chairman of another faction of the Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani had suggested that “the event must end in 15 days as used to be the norm earlier.”

Prominent Kashmiri Pandit leader Vijay Bakaya, who also served as advisor to former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad, had said on record that “the environmental concerns of the people of Kashmir are legitimate and needed to be taken care of.”

Bakaya, however, had argued that it was because of exposure and media coverage that more and more people across mainland India were getting to know about the pilgrimage and that’s why the number of Yatris kept increasing.

“It is not because of any jingoism,” he had said.