| A vehicle carrying pilgrims towards Ganta forest. Picture by Amit Kumar |
Pilgrims on their way to Deoghar for the Shravani Mela are having a tough time after Jamui and Munger police withdrew night patrolling from Lakshmipur, 85km southwest of Sultanganj.
The kanwariyas, who collect water from the Ganga at Sultanganj and proceed to Deoghar to pray to Lord Baidyanath, look at crossing Lakshmipur by night. It ensures them an early start for Deoghar. Since Monday, the police of Jamui and Munger stopped night patrolling through Ganta forest after receiving intelligence inputs of a possible attack on the personnel. The pilgrims are also stopped at Lakshmipur from where Ganta forest, considered a Maoist stronghold, starts.
Around July 13, when the month-long Shravani Mela began, Munger and Jamui police initiated the special patrolling drive for the pilgrims passing through the 13-km stretch of Ganta forest at night. Jamui police escorted the kanwariyas till Sawalakh Baba Sthan after Lakshmipur after which Munger’s Ganta police took over for the remaining stretch.
Last year, too, the rebels targeted an anti-landmine vehicle of the police when officers were on their way back after escorting kanwariyas through the forest.
From Monday, Jamui police handed over the responsibility to escort the kanwariyas from Lakshmipur to the rural police but the security personnel decided against crossing the forest at night.
The pilgrims, however, have no other route to reach Sultanganj late in the night than taking the forest route. In 2012, the dilapidated Ghorghat bride on National Highway 80 closed down, forcing vehicles on way to Sultanganj from west (Patna side) and south (Gaya side) to take the Jamui-Tarapur-Sultanganj road via the Ganta forest. Restriction on proceeding to Sultanganj late in the night has led to resentment among the pilgrims.
Subodh Prasad, a pilgrim from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, was stopped at Lakshmipur on Wednesday night. He said: “We travelled a long way to reach Sultanganj at midnight. But we had to wait at Lakshmipur from 11.30pm to 4am, resulting in a delay to leave for Sultanganj on Thursday.”
Jamui superintendent of police Upendra Prasad Singh said: “Night patrolling has been temporarily suspended on the road passing through Ganta forest. The police although continue to provide the kanwariyas vehicles security. We just stop them at Lakshmipur late in the night. We allow them to proceed in groups after 4am.”