Amarnath Board Gives Up Land Claim

29 June 2008

Srinagar: Under pressure Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra, who is also chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), has decided against pursuing the land transfer issue after the government promised all facilities to Amarnath pilgrims. “In view of the state government’s firm commitment to protecting and honouring the interests of the yatris, SASB has decided to withdraw its earlier request for forestland to set up temporary facilities for the pilgrims,” the governor said in a letter to chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Sunday. Vohra said the government had sanctioned the diversion of 39.88 hectares of forestland to SASB to raise pre-fabricated structures for pilgrim camps at Baltal and Domail. “Misrepresentation of facts, the background and the actual significance of the order made it appear that the SASB had acquired permanent ownership of the land. In fact, the land is still to be demarcated and handed over to SASB,” he said. Vohra said rumours spread by certain elements had led to a wave of protests and loss of precious lives in the Valley. “The emerging insecurity has also reduced the flow of over 10,000 yatris,” he said. The governor’s letter was made public by Azad at a press conference, where he also paraded four independent MLAs in a show of strength following the withdrawal of support by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday. This year’s pilgrimage would be hereafter overseen by the government, while SASB will perform religious rituals at the cave shrine. PDP was quick to take credit for the developments. “Our sacrifices have yielded a positive result. Once the state government takes up the responsibility of the yatris, the land diversion order would automatically stand revoked. We have succeeded in making it happen,” party chief Mehbooba Mufti told reporters. The separatists and the Sangh Parivar parties, however, were not happy. While moderate Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq demanded the land transfer order be revoked and its copies made public, the BJP called for a Jammu bandh on Monday to protest the decision. “Unless the order is revoked and its copies shown to public, protests will continue,” Mirwaiz said leading a procession in the old city. BJP state president Ashok Khujuria demanded the president immediately recall the governor. “We have called for a Jammu bandh on Monday to protest the governor’s decision. He has become an agent of the Congress party,” he said. Meanwhile, a curfew-like situation prevailed in Kashmir, though there was less violence as compared to the last one week. There was heavy deployment of police and CRPF personnel preventing any attempts to take out processions. In several localities, protesters were chased away by cops using smoke shells and cane charge. Srinagar was tense but calm.