Baig, Abdullah want Vohra to solve land controversy (Lead)

June 26th, 2008 - 10:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, June 26 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister and senior Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig Thursday met new Governor N.N. Vohra and suggested he should withdraw the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board’s (SASB) claim to a plot of forestland as a possible way out of the controversy over the issue. “I met the governor earlier today and suggested that as the (ex-officio) head of the SASB he should withdraw the board’s claim on the forest land in Baltal area of Ganderbal district to resolve the impasse,” Baig told a media conference.

Vohra took oath of office Wednesday, succeeding Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha.

Baig reportedly also met Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and discussed the possibility of the SASB’s withdrawal of claim to the forestland.

Azad was also expected to meet the governor on the issue.

Baig reiterated his party’s threat to quit the ruling coalition if the controversial land allotment to the SASB was not rescinded by the end of this month.

The state cabinet March 5 allotted 40 hectares of forestland in Baltal in north Kashmir, which serves as base camp for pilgrims to the Hindu cave shrine of Amarnath, to the SASB for providing facilities to pilgrims.

Board chief executive Arun Kumar kicked up a row when he said the SASB was going to make concrete structures on the allotted land, which now had the board’s proprietorship.

The state government rebutted him by saying the land was allotted to the board but temporarily diverted to it without any authority to build permanent structures there. Since then, there has been an unrelenting public controversy that snowballed into major protests both in the Valley and the Jammu region.

Earlier in the day, the main opposition National Conference’s president Omar Abdullah also asked Vohra to withdraw a request his predecessor made for the forestland allotment to the SASB.

“I have today called on Governor N.N. Vohra along with my party legislators and asked him to formally withdraw the request made by his predecessor as head of the SASB for land allotment,” Abdullah told a media conference here.

“Since the agitation against the land allotment has triggered a communal divide, the withdrawal of the request is a possible way out of the imbroglio,” Omar Abdullah said.

He also condemned the alleged police firing on protesters and attacks by agitated mobs on Amarnath pilgrims and tourists.

The National Conference president squarely blamed his political rivals in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which partners the Congress in the ruling coalition, for the present mess.

“The forest minister and the law minister are two important signatories to the forest land allotment in favour of the SASB, and both these portfolios are with the PDP,” he said.

Abdullah also wondered why the SASB went ahead with a formal requisition for land allotment since the same had been in their use for years.

He also rejected Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s proposal to convene an all-party meet on the contentious issue.

Given the highly surcharged atmosphere both in Kashmir and Jammu region, the contentious issue of land allotment has become a catch-22 situation for the state government.

If the government withdraws the land allotment or if the SASB withdraws its claim on the land, there could be a serious fallout in the Hindu-majority Jammu region and if there’s status quo the Kashmir Valley may remain on the boil, according to observers.

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