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Porters at Vaishno Devi face an uncertain future

By Santosh K Joy in Katra
February 11, 2007 16:33 IST
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Symbols of Hindu-Muslim amity, the porters in Vaishno Devi, commonly known as pittus in the area, most of whom are Muslim by faith, today face a grim future fearing loss of their livelihood.

First, it was the helicopter service that reduced their work substantially. And now with a ropeway service being introduced to ferry pilgrims to the hill-top shrine, these porters now fear a threat to their very survival.

This month, the cost of the helicopter ride has been substantially slashed, owing to competition among operators. It has become as cheap as Rs 1,200 per person.

"The number of pilgrims now taking the walking track is almost half than what it used to be a couple of years ago. It is decreasing every day," said Jamaal, a porter who is a native of Rajouri.

He also complained that with battery-driven auto-rickshaws now provided for half the distance to Vaishno Devi, there is now lesser demand for pittus.

"We pay a licence fee to the Shrine Board and renew it every year without fail. We do not understand why decisions that harm us are then taken," said Ateef, a porter working in Vaishno Devi for the last 15 years.

"We have protested these decisions and called a strike for over a week when the helicopter service was started here in 2002," he said.

The 14-km distance between Katra town and Vaishno Devi shrine could earlier be travelled only on foot and the porters were a big help to the pilgrims during the trek.

Porters provide services like carrying the luggage, carrying the pilgrims on palanquins or ferrying them on ponies.

They even provide a quick massage to tired pilgrims and nurse the aged and the sick.

The Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department said it would take into consideration the welfare of porters in any decision they take.

"They are important members of our family. Any decision we take will be after considering their welfare," said Ajay Khajuria, Director, Jammu Tourism.

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Santosh K Joy in Katra
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