Azad stays firm on cancellation Govt more capable of managing yatra

3 July 2008
The Daily Excelsior

By Sanjeev Pargal JAMMU: Notwithstanding the extension of Jammu bandh by another 72 hours, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today stayed firm on the decision taken by the Cabinet to revoke the order of transfer of 800 kanals of Forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and Government taking control of yatra arrangements. Justifying the decision to the extent that he wanted it to be celebrated by the people of Jammu by distributing ‘ladoos’ and sweets, Mr Azad, flanked by a number of Congress Ministers from Jammu, said he still stood by his statement that 99 per cent people in Jammu were ‘devtas’ (Godly figures) and only one per cent of them were creating trouble for 'vote bank politics'. 'The issue is being exploited in Jammu just as it was done in Kashmir by the vested interests for garnering votes', Mr Azad said flanked by Mangat Ram Sharma, Jugal Kishore, Gulchain Singh Charak, B R Kundal, Babu Singh, Ch Gharu Ram, Janak Raj Gupta and Prem Sagar Aziz at his official residence this evening. In response to a question, the Chief Minister admitted that the role of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) now has been confined to managing religious affairs and ‘chhari puja’. 'The State Government is thousand times better placed than the SASB and has more capacity and capability than the Board to run the pilgrimage. They (the Board) have no security forces, DCs, SPs, manpower, doctors and other logistics for the yatra. If the Government can run a large number of development projects why can’t it manage the yatra'? he asked. He added that the Government can acquire twice or thrice more land than the SASB, if required, for the pilgrimage. The Cabinet has named Tourism Department as a nodal agency for making arrangements for the yatris, he pointed out. 'It is responsibility of the State Government to ensure safety and security of the pilgrims and raise infrastructure for them. The Government writ can’t be challenged. Whether it is a Hindu or a Muslim Board, they can’t be above the Government. They raised just two tents and call it infrastructure. The Government is capable of raising infrastructure 10,000 times bigger than the Board', Mr Azad said. Denying that the SASB has been disbanded or is being disbanded, Mr Azad said there will be no interference in religious affairs of the Board and it would continue to perform ‘Chhari puja’ and other ‘puja path’. In response to a question as to whether a 'minority Government' had to power to revoke the order of granting Forest land to SASB, the Chief Minister observed that since 1990 most of the Governments being run in the country were minority Governments. Moreover, he quipped, a Government is a Government. Saying that protests at both the places-initially in Kashmir region and now in Jammu-had no justification and were managed by the 'vested interests' for 'vote bank politics', Mr Azad without naming any political party or organisation, however, admitted that at both the places these elements have succeeded in setting the regions on fire. He put the number of these 'vested interests' as ‘muthi bhar’ (handful). In a direct attack on BJP, again without naming it, the Chief Minister observed that some forces with a clear eye on elections were trying to burn not only Jammu but entire India. To a question as to why the Congress Ministers didn’t visit Jammu earlier, Mr Azad said he thought that after the Government decision of taking over Amarnath yatra arrangements, the people not only in Jammu but entire India will distribute ‘ladoos’ and sweets. He admitted that this didn’t happen as the message was not allowed to reach to the people. Equally blaming the 'unnamed forces' in Kashmir for spreading a wrong notion in Kashmir that pre-fabricated structures on Forest land will be converted into concrete structures to accommodate outsiders and change demographic character of the State and dilute Article 370 of the Constitution, he said the people who couldn’t understand the Government order of transfer of Forest land to SASB took to the streets. 'Following protests in Kashmir, the Governor in his capacity as SASB chairman asked the Government whether it can handle the yatra arrangements to which we replied in positive as we had been doing so for the last 150 years', he said and recalled that it was the Congress Government which had in 1994-95 didn’t succumb to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen threats to disrupt yatra and made fool proof security arrangements for the pilgrims. Describing the Government decision as a 'win-win situation' for all, the Chief Minister asserted that the people who have sympathies with yatris and want more facilities for them, they should dance but if they want to play politics, they can burn the region. 'Militants in Kashmir have virtually spoiled economy of the region. First, it were the Kashmiri Pandits who fled the Valley and later the tourists. Economy of Jammu was flourishing as from traders to taxi operators every body was having a good business with 70-80 lakh pilgrims visiting Mata Vaishno Devi shrine every year. As terrorists were responsible for destroying tourism in Kashmir, here in Jammu I blame the forces who have created 'terror and were not allowing the people to come forward and welcome the decision'. They were also trying to spoil economy of the region', Mr Azad cautioned. Maintaining that there was nothing wrong in allotment of Forest land to the SASB for raising pre-fabricated structures, he said Forest land has been allotted for various other purposes by 'our Government as well as the Governments headed by Farooq Abdullah and Mufti Mohd Sayeed from time to time'. Several roads being constructed under PMGSY to connect villages were passing through forests and fields, he pointed out. 'It was a routine. There was nothing wrong in it but we didn’t know that the issue would be exploited by the vested interests', he lamented. To a specific question as to which decision (allotment or cancellation of land to the SASB) was right, the Chief Minister said land to the SASB was allotted in 'very good intention' but certain forces made a mess of it, raised religious passions, spread rumours and did whatever they could. 'The land had not been allotted. It was just given as users land under users charge. The SASB had no ownership rights over it but the land had just been diverted to them', he asserted. Replying to another question that no ‘harsh action’ was taken in Kashmir where protests continued for over a week like in Jammu where curfew was imposed on second day of bandh, he told the questioner that five protesters were killed in Kashmir and asked 'whether you want the people to be killed here'? He cautioned that utterances of some organisations were making the lives of pilgrims vulnerable. Mr Azad recalled that during his visit to Jammu in June last year, he was apprised that people here get water supply only once a day. 'At that time, I had described 99 per cent people of Jammu as ‘devtas’, who were tolerating such a situation. Even in today’s situation, I believe that 99 per cent of the people in Jammu were ‘devtas’ but they were being exploited by one per cent trouble mongers'. Ministers beat hasty retreat Most of the Jammu Ministers especially Health and Medical Education Minister Mangat Ram Sharma and Higher Education Minister Gulchain Singh Charak had to beat a hasty retreat from a press conference addressed by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad as they were unable to reply a volley of questions putforth by the media persons. 'It is the duty of fourth estate to properly educate the people. If you start putting questions like this....?', Mr Azad asked as a number of mediamen started asking questions on making Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) defunct by the Government. Amidst a pose of questions, Mr Azad left the press conference and returned to his adjacent room at his official residence. An agitated reporter took serious exception to one Minister reportedly saying in a press conference yesterday that agitation in Jammu was benefiting Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). 'Who has said so. You must name the Minister', an agitated Charak said. 'The people of Jammu are nationalist. They can’t become ISI agents merely by the saying of one Minister', the reporter shouted. 'Look at yourself', Mr Charak countered. 'If you too start thinking like a common man what will I do. If media is itself not clear what will they write', Mr Azad remarked before leaving the press conference. 'The SASB has also been disbanded. It has virtually been left to two tents', another reporter countered to the Chief Minister’s reply who said just raising two tents can’t be said infrastructure. A reporter wanted to put a question to Mangat Ram Sharma. 'Ask question to Mr Sharma at his residence', Mr Azad said. 'He (Mr Sharma) fled from the house after inviting media persons for addressing a press conference', the reporter remarked. As the Ministers started leaving the press conference venue, Mr Charak and Mr Sharma were surrounded by the media persons but both of them too fled away to a surrounding room. However, R&B Minister Jugal Kishore faced the media queries for sometime and started inter-acting with them but he too was called inside by his colleagues.