Hurriyat Hawk Syed Geelani's Yatra Call Angers Shrine Board18 March 2010
Srinagar: Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani has ignited a fire over the annual Amarnath yatra in Jammu and Kashmir. He has called for a reduction in its duration to save the environment. 'The government should reduce the duration of the yatra and regulate the number of yatris to save the fragile environment. Earlier, the yatra used to last only 15 days but now it stretches to four months,' Geelani said. The yatra starts in three months. The Hurriyat leader's comments have angered the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Simiti (SASS), which spearheaded the agitation in 2008 for restoration of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). 'Geelani is trying to vitiate the atmosphere ahead of the yatra. The dates for the two-month pilgrimage have been fixed and there is no reason for reducing the duration. Geelani should focus on Haj rather than interfering in the religious affairs of Hindus,' brigadier (retd) Suchet Singh, convener of SASS, said. In 2008, an agitation of transferring land in Amarnath had polarised the state on religious and regional lines. People in Jammu and in the valley launched agitations for and against the transfer of 39.88 hectares of forest land to SASB. People of Jammu were demanding the restoration of the land to SASB, but when Kashmir erupted against the deal, the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government cancelled the earlier Cabinet decision to give the land to SASB. This angered the people of Jammu, who launched an agitation. After two months, the government finally set aside the land for SASB. The agitation had big repercussions in the state. Police statistics show that 51 civilians died in Kashmir and nine in Jammu because of protests. The controversy also led to the fall of the Ghulam Nabi Azad government as his alliance partner PDP withdrew support. It's been two years since and things have been quieter, but Geelani's statement could arouse passions. 'The government should stop Geelani from making provocative statements,' brigadier Singh said.