VADODARA: People from Gujarat planning to go on the Amarnath yatra this year, will have to shell out more money, with the state government issuing a new guideline making it mandatory for pilgrims using tour bus operators to wear bulletproof jackets.
Less than a year after a terror strike in J&K’s Anantnag on a bus carrying pilgrims from Gujarat, the guideline also makes it mandatory for bus operators to ensure drivers’ age limit isn’t over 50 years. “The guideline to provide bulletproof jackets has come from the state home department. It is an advice,” RM Jadhav, transport commissioner, told TOI on Thursday.
But operators say buying the jackets is an extra for them, and pilgrims. “If we don’t follow the guideline, the state won’t give us permit for the tour. It involves paperwork and problems for us,” said a tour operator in Vadodara.
“We will have to ask tourists to buy their own bulletproof jackets as we can’t afford it. A bulletproof jacket costs about Rs 12,000,” says Siddique Gandhi, VP, Baroda Tours and Travels Association. Around 5,000-7,000 pilgrims register for the yatra from Gujarat every year. The number of unregistered yatris is nearly 35,000. Tour operators normally charge about Rs 10,000 per person, Gandhi says, adding that many tourists won’t be able to shell out the extra money.
“How are we supposed to buy bulletproof jackets that are not usually available for civilians, in the open market?” asks Hari Patel, chairman, Akhil Gujarat Tourist Vehicle Operators Federation. Bus operators are miffed that the norm is only applicable to them. “Private taxis or passengers travelling by train or air are not covered under the new rule. We are ready to follow the provision, but the government has to be reasonable,” Patel told TOI.