Land row: Order cancelled, Jammu burns with anger (Lead)

July 1st, 2008 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Srinagar/Jammu, July 1 (IANS) The government Tuesday rescinded the forest land allotment order to a Hindu shrine board putting an end to a long controversy that saw violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley during last week. But the latest move has angered the Hindu-majority Jammu region, where authorities clamped curfew apprehending more trouble after Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad withdrew the order of allotting 40 hectares of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).

Azad cancelled the order in a three-hour long meeting with his cabinet colleagues of the Congress, according to official sources.

The cabinet also decided to hand over the disputed forest land to the state tourism department, which would make arrangements for the facilities of the pilgrims to the Hindu cave shrine in south Kashmir.

The decision came on a day when Kashmiri separatist leaders had called for a mass protest rally in the central mosque in the old Srinagar city.

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 were placed under house arrest to prevent them from taking part in the proposed rally.

With the decision, the government finally addressed the demands of the separatists and many mainstream political parties in the Kashmir Valley. They were demanding the revocation of the controversial order in black and white.

But the move has angered Hindu groups in Jammu, who have been holding violent protests in the winter capital against the cancellation order since Monday.

At least 70 people were injured in unrelenting protests in Jammu, the winter capital of the state.

Police vehicles fitted with loudspeakers announced the imposition of curfew asking the people to be indoors as their presence on streets would be construed as violation of law.

However, the restriction had no deterring effect on the protesters, who continued to fight pitched battles with the police in many parts of the city and its outskirts.

The police fired bullets, teargas shells and resorted to intense baton charge to disperse the stone-pelting mob at several places in the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

“The situation is extremely tense,” deputy inspector general of police Farooq Khan told the media.

Superintendent of police Sanjay Kotwal was among many policemen injured in stone-pelting in Amphalla area in the walled city of Jammu, as violent clashes also erupted at Domana, Muthi, Jatwal, Rehari areas.

An agitated mob staged a sit-in on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway blocking traffic on the only road link to the Kashmir Valley.

More police reinforcements have been deployed in the region to neutralise the situation, which is spiralling out of control.

Normal life remained paralysed as the shutdown, called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu groups, entered the second day Tuesday.

All business establishments and educational institutions were closed in view of the volatile situation in the Jammu region. Public transport remained off the roads.

The Hindu groups, including the Shiv Sena, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, are protesting the government’s “climb down”.

Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of a raging communal crisis triggered by the controversial order.

The Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley witnessed violent protests against the order and five people were killed in alleged police firing during the past week.

Kashmiris said the move was a conspiracy to alter the demography of the Muslim-majority state.

Protests were also held at Udhampur, Ramban, Rajouri and Samba districts, where demonstrators burnt effigies of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Governor N.N. Vohra, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba.

Criticising the latest move, Rajesh Gupta, leader of the Shiv Sena, said: “The government is bowing before the anti-national elements.”

He also criticised the governor for his role in “appeasing the Kashmiri Muslim fundamentalists” by offering to hand over the large swathe of forest land to the state government.

“Vohra and Azad have joined hands with all anti-national forces represented by the Hurriyat Conference, the PDP and the National Conference.”

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