New Delhi, Nov 13: Only 50,000 devotees will be allowed to visit Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir at 50,000 a day, ordered the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday. If the number exceeds, pilgrims will be stopped at Ardhkuwari or Katra town, it added. A new path to Vaishno Devi exclusively for pedestrians and battery-operated cars will be opened from November 24, the green court said.

“Only 50,000 devotees will be allowed to enter the shrine every day. Any more people found proceeding towards the shrine would be stopped either at Ardhkumari or Katra,” said an NGT official. The NGT also ordered a stay on all new constructions taking place inside the Vaishno Devi shrine complex. It also directed the authorities to impose a fine (environment compensation) of Rs 2,000 on anyone found littering the roads as well as the bus stop at the nearby Katra town.

The NGT bench headed by chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar made it clear that if the number of pilgrims exceeds the prescribed 50,000 cap, they will be stopped at Ardhkuwari or Katra town, considering that the Vaishno Devi Bhawan structure cannot accommodate more than 50,000 persons. The green panel’s directions came during the hearing of a plea filed by an activist seeking directions to stop the use of horses and ponies in Vaishno Devi shrine premises in Jammu, prompting the green panel to seek a response from the government on the issue.

The cave shrine, one of the most popular in the country, attracts millions of pilgrims every year. Earlier this year, over one lakh pilgrims visited the shrine of Vaishno Devi in the Katra town of Reasi district. The footfall, however, dipped to only 27,500 after the grenade attack in Tral township of south Kashmir that left two civilians dead and 30 others injured, an official told PTI.

Minister of State (MoS) for Finance Ajay Nanda in September said terror strikes and natural disasters have made a dent in the number of pilgrims visiting the holy shrine in the past couple of years.