Yet another controversy dogged this year's edition of Amarnath pilgrimage with the state government and the shrine board locking horns over the issue of helicopter services for the affluent pilgrims.
Even as sources at Shri Amarnath shrine board on Tuesday charged the state director of civil aviation of putting a spanner in the chopper service contracted by it, the latter said it had cleared the operation of one chopper and cited paucity of space and infrastructure at the cave shrine for cutting down on the board's proposal.
The shrine board finalised an agreement with a private operator, Jagson airlines, earlier this month for operating three helicopters from Srinagar and Baltal to the cave shrine and the chief minister was also keen on it but director of civil aviation has refused allow the services, shrine board sources said.
This despite the director general of civil aviation in Delhi and Indian Air Force granting the clearance, they said. Against this backdrop, the inauguration of the services by Governor Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha, who is also chairman of SASB, was cancelled, the sources said.
However, the director of civil aviation, Wing Commander J S Katoch told PTI that DGCA while allowing SASB to operate the service had made it clear that it should seek clearance from local authorities.
Katoch said. "We received the application from SASB on June 17 in the evening and the next two days were holidays. The case was taken up on June 20 and we informed the board that it can operate only one helicopter from Baltal only, for various reasons."
Observing that Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation was also running two choppers to the cave, Katoch said, space restriction at the cave, and Nehru helipad in Srinagar and Baltal base camp did not permit too many helicopters.
"Indian Air Force has made it clear that we cannot have four or five choppers operating due to paucity of space at the cave shrine and Nehru helipad. Moreover, there is no communication between air traffic control and cave shrine to guide the air traffic which makes it necessary to allow fewer choppers," he pointed out.
"The infrastructure at Baltal, Nehru helipad and the cave shrine are properties of the state and we have to look into how to run them effectively and safely", he added.
Katoch said the decision to allow only one chopper of the Jagson airlines was taken in view of safety of the passengers, as the choppers have to fly without any technical support.
Earlier, SASB and state government had locked horns over the duration of the journey and use of forest land for setting up temporary shelters for pilgrims which has since been resolved.