Land row: Curfew-like restrictions in tense Kashmir

July 1st, 2008 - 1:44 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Srinagar, July 1 (IANS) Curfew-like restrictions were imposed here Tuesday as Kashmir’s separatist leaders called for a mass rally in the central mosque in the old city to protest allotment of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). All entry points to Srinagar city have been sealed by the police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) since morning to prevent the proposed rally.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate Hurriyat Conference, Shabir Shah, chief of the Democratic Freedom party, Nayeem Khan, head of the National Front, and other separatist leaders have been placed under house arrest to prevent them from taking part in the rally.

Chairman of the hardline Hurriyat group, Syed Ali Geelani, has reportedly given the slip to the authorities by going underground somewhere in the old city area near the Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta area, where the people were supposed to gather.

Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of a raging political and communal crisis triggered by the controversial order of the state government transferring 40 hectares of forest land to the SASB, which used to manage the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir.

The Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley has witnessed violent protests against the order and five people were killed in alleged police firing during the past week. Kashmiris allege the shrine board would settle “outsiders” there and change the demography of the state.

Succumbing to the public pressure, Governor N.N. Vohra, who is also ex-officio chairman of the SASB, Sunday gave up the claim on the land and asked the state government to manage the annual Hindu pilgrimage on its own.

The move was welcomed in the valley but has invited public irk in the Jammu region, where Hindu groups Monday took to streets protesting against the government’s “U-turn” on the issue.

High tension continued to grip the Kashmir Valley Tuesday as educational institutions, markets, traffic and banks remained closed for the eighth day.

Attendance in government offices continued to remain marginal because of the non-availability of public transport in the city and elsewhere in the valley.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is expected to chair a cabinet meeting and formally revoke the controversial forest land allotment order to the SASB, source told IANS.

This will be for the first state cabinet meeting without Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ministers, who pulled out of the coalition government Saturday amid differences with the Congress over the land transfer orders.

Separatist leaders and Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, including the National Conference and the PDP, are demanding a formal revocation of the land allotment order to cool down tempers in the valley where violent protests have disrupted normal life for more than a week now.

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