Jammu protesters now want buildings for Amarnath pilgrims (Lead)

July 30th, 2008 - 6:18 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, July 30 (IANS) The group spearheading the campaign for allocation of forest land to the Amarnath temple trust in the Kashmir Valley Wednesday said it was ready to settle for “better proposals” after talks with the government over the land row. The Amarnath Yatra Sangrash Samiti, a group of 30 Hindu outfits, is looking for “better proposals” on the land row, like erecting buildings for Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir, convenor of the Sangharsh Samiti Leela Karan Sharma told reporters. He was coming from an over-75-minute closed-door meeting with government emissaries.

Buildings for pilgrims at various places en route to the cave shrine from Jammu, according to sources, was the same proposal of the erstwhile coalition government headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad.

These buildings may include permanent structures as well, the sources said.

The government Wednesday held a dialogue with the group that has been demanding the restoration of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which manages the annual Amarnath pilgrimage.

As of the moment, Sharma said, the Sangarsh Samiti has sought “a congenial atmosphere for the dialogue to move further”.

He said the AYSS wants the government to “set free all the people arrested during the Jammu agitation since July 1 and punish the officers responsible for alleged atrocities on the agitators”.

The two senior government officers, principal Secretary (home) Anil Goswami, who is from Jammu, and director general of police Kuldip Khoda, a Kashmiri Hindu, however, refused to divulge the details of their discussion with the AYSS leaders.

The talks were initiated after a month-long violent protests in Jammu against the cancellation of land allotment to the SASB.

The government May 26 allotted 40 hectares of forest land in north Kashmir to the SASB for creating “temporary and pre-fabricated” shelters for Hindu pilgrims on their way to the cave temple and back.

But the order was revoked July 1 following violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, in which six people were killed. The protesters alleged that the land would be used to settle outsiders and change the Muslim-majority character of the valley.

The revocation order silenced the protests in Kashmir but ignited demonstrations in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, which has been reeling under curfews, shutdowns and violent protests for the past one month now.

Jammu continued to observe a shutdown for the seventh consecutive day Wednesday, with business, shops, educational and other institutions closed. Roads were deserted.

The AYSS has given a call for the shutdown till Thursday evening to protest the cancellation of land allotment to the shrine board.

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