Transfer of land for Amarnath shrine not unusual: former governor

July 7th, 2008 - 10:14 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) The transfer of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board “was nothing unusual”, former Jammu and Kashmir governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha said here Monday. He added that thousands of hectares of such land had earlier been given to private firms and state departments. Sinha, who demitted office June 25, said the land in question has actually been a traditional camping site for 100 years for Amarnath pilgrims.

“There is nothing unusual in the land transfer. Thousands of hectares of forest land have been given to Reliance to put up towers, to the public works department for road construction, and to the power department for erecting poles. But the land transfer to SASB (Shri Amarnath Shrine Board) was given a communal colour,” Sinha said.

Sinha was speaking at a lecture on “How to combat Religious Fundamentalism” at the India International Centre here.

“Even in Jammu, forest land was given to the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. For the Mughal Road, which is necessary for the development of the region, about 10,000 trees have been cut and it is ecologically harmful. But for SASB, not a single tree has been cut,” Sinha said.

He also strongly criticised the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for withdrawing support to the Congress-led state government on the issue.

“PDP is a strange party. It was their forest minister, law minister and deputy chief minister who were examining this proposal for the last three years and recommended it to the cabinet.

“The three were also present during the cabinet meeting when a unanimous decision was taken to transfer the land. Yet they have backtracked,” Sinha said.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad Monday decided to quit office rather than put his motion of confidence to vote in the state legislative assembly after the party’s largest coalition partner, the PDP, withdrew support to the government last week over the Amarnath land allotment row.

Sinha also rejected accusations that the land was taken to build townships for Hindus.

“A virtual non-issue has snowballed into an issue. It was alleged that SASB was setting up Hindu townships on the allotted land for changing the demographic profile of the valley, which is a lie,” Sinha said.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had earlier this month cancelled the allotment of 40 hectares of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board, which manages the pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. The decision polarised not just the state with violence in Hindu majority Jammu but led to a ripple effect in other parts of the country as well.

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