Kashmir tense even after government retains forest land (Roundup)June 29th, 2008 - 6:53 pm ICT by IANS
Srinagar, June 29 (IANS) The Jammu and Kashmir government Sunday said it will retain the forest land allotted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). But protests and demonstrations continued for the seventh day in the Kashmir Valley and security restrictions remained in force in this city. Addressing the media here, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “The government has taken up the responsibility of managing the Amarnath yatra (pilgrimage) that includes providing security and facilities to the pilgrims.”
Asked whether the state government was now contemplating rescinding the land allotment order to the SASB, Azad said: “Since the SASB has reverted the responsibilities of conducting the pilgrimage to the state government, the issue of forest land allotment to SASB has already been settled as the shrine board no longer needs this land.”
But he quickly added: “There is no question of dissolving the SASB since all the religious functions in connection with the pilgrimage would be carried by them.”
Some groups in the Hindu dominated Jammu region held protests against the government’s decision.
As TV channels flashed the news of the state government preparing to take over arrangements of the pilgrimage, activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, and the Panun Kashmir, a group of Kashmiri Hindu migrants, took to the streets and held demonstrations denouncing the government for what they said “dismantling the SASB”.
They raised slogans against Azad and called him a “stooge of Islamic fundamentalists.”
Earlier Sunday, in an attempt to defuse the highly surcharged atmosphere triggered by the controversial forest land transfer, Governor N.N. Vohra asked the state government to take the charge of managing the pilgrimage.
“The government will make all temporary facilities on the forest land for the convenience of the pilgrims,” Azad said at the news conference.
The move came a day after the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) left the government in crisis by pulling out of the Congress-led coalition amid differences over the allotment of the forest land in north Kashmir Baltal.
The Kashmir Valley has witnessed violent protests in the past week, after the state government March 5 allotted 40 hectares of forest land to the SASB, which till now managed the annual pilgrimage to the Hindu cave shrine in south Kashmir.
Muslims in the Kashmir Valley are opposed to the allotment order and allege the board would use the land to settle “outsiders” in the area and thus change the region’s demography. The issue triggered an unrelenting controversy and four people were killed and scores injured in clashes between the police and the agitated Muslim protesters.
Also on Sunday, there was an undeclared curfew in several sensitive parts of old city, and police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were deployed in strength to enforce restrictions.
No movement was allowed in the Civil Lines area also, where CRPF troopers allegedly roughed up several civilians.
The strict security brought down the number of procession in the city, yet people’s determined attempts saw clashes between the security forces and protesters here and other towns, resulting in injuries to at least 15 people including four policemen.
Security forces burst tear-has shells and used batons to disperse stone pelting mobs in old city areas and in various district headquarters.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, led a massive protest demonstration in the old city.
The Mirwaiz led procession, shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans culminated in a meeting at the residence of Sameer Ahmad, a 24-year-old youth who died last week in the alleged CRPF firing at Fateh Kadal.
“The authorities should show us the land allotment cancellation order. The protests will continue. Insha Allah, we will take the freedom struggle to its logical conclusion,” the Mirwaiz told the mourners.
Kashmir’s inspector general of police S.M.Sahai said: “Situation in the Kashmir Valley is becoming normal. There is no curfew in any area of Srinagar. People can come out without any fear.”
Meanwhile, political crisis in the election-bound state continued following the PDP’s decision Saturday to withdraw from the ruling coalition reducing the government to minority.
The opposition National Conference, the single largest party in the state legislative assembly, ruled out any support to the government if it failed to get a vote of confidence in the assembly.
“We will neither join the Congress-led government nor support it from outside,” National Conference president Omar Abdullah told the media.
Tags: amarnath yatra, bajrang dal, chief minister, forest land, ghulam nabi azad, islamic fundamentalists, jammu and kashmir, jammu and kashmir government, kashmir valley, kashmiri, land allotment, panun kashmir, religious functions, sasb, security restrictions, shri, shrine board, stooge, vishwa hindu parishad, vohra