Managing lavatories for Amarnath pilgrims

One of the bigger deals with undertaking any pilgrimage with thousands of other people is to be able be reasonably manage needs arounds bathrooms and  lavatories. If you are in the basecamp at Nunwan in Pahalgam, or camp in Panchtarni or Sheshnag, no other problem is more exacerbated than this. The scene at 6:00 has to be seen to be believed. People sit out there in open, and feces are littered all over – without many reservations, people sit anywhere – simply because there is no choice.  Help is on way…


Pahalgam, May 16: The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has constructed hundreds of lavatories and many huts at Nunwan base camp in this famous hill resort where
illegal constructions already pose a serious threat to its ‘fragile’ environment.

The land on which the lavatories and huts have come up is the state land acquired by the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) where construction of
any kind is strictly forbidden.

           “We have constructed 250 lavatories and 22 prefab huts for Yatris. The SASB has asked us to erect 100 more lavatories and 50 bathrooms in the base
camp,” said an SASB employee.

           The huts, and lavatories made of angular iron have been erected on concrete plinths in the green zone with a land area of 226 Kanals.

           Adjacent to the lavatories, small pits have been dug for disposal of human excreta. Many of these pits have been connected to a two feet wide drain
leading to nowhere. The green zone area has another drain which empties into a wide pit, few meters outside the camp. The pit, which has been dug on one side of
the main road leading to Pahalgam, ultimately leads into river Lidder, one of the main attractions of the resort.

           “The drain has been dug last year for flow of residual wastes from Langers which are established every year for yatris. It (drain) will ultimately
carry the wastes to the pit outside for safe decomposition,” said another SASB employee.

           The SASB, according to the employee, has planned to concretize the drain. “The plan was formulated last year, but the board may implement it this
year,” he said. The board is also shifting the prefab huts to other side in the camp due to the high-tension power line passing above them.  Environmentalists and officials in the PDA say environment of Pahalgam is very fragile and any interference with it would be detrimental to its
ecosystem. “Even a minor activity undertaken in this green zone can prove disastrous,” said Dr Mubashir Rufai, a noted environmentalist.

           He said the establishments of lavatories in the zone will affect the environment as well as human health. “The human excreta from these lavatories
will ultimately seep into bottom layers of earth and reach the underground water layer and contaminate it.  It will also pollute the Lidder stream besides
increase the bacterial count of water, which will affect the humans who will consume this water in the lower regions,” Dr Rufai said.

           The PDA authorities, however, claim the excreta would be treated chemically and it will not affect the Nunwan environment. But environmentalists refute the claim. “To what extent can the excreta be treated chemically when you have a massive rush of people?” questioned Dr

           He said the “best solution” would have been to erect environment-friendly lavatories with an attached soakage pit. “The pit could be transported for
proper decomposition at proper locations,” Dr Rufai said.

           The pre-fabricated huts were set up last year by the SASB without seeking permission of the authorities concerned.

           Since then, there has been a strong correspondence between the PDA and SASB about their shifting to some other location. But nothing has been done so
far, even though the construction in this zone is drawing flak from PDA.