Aug 31 Amarnath accord improved on May order, but very similar

September 3rd, 2008 - 1:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 3 (IANS) May 26 to Aug 31 - more than three months of a bitter land row that saw Jammu ranged against Kashmir. But the two orders on land for Amarnath pilgrims are not very different from each other, though one triggered the conflict and the other has helped calm the situation, say experts. However, care was taken in the Aug 31 order to ensure there was no misinterpretation of the ownership of the property.

On May 26, the Jammu and Kashmir cabinet unanimously approved “the diversion of forest land measuring 39.88 hectares for raising prefabricated structures only for camping purposes of pilgrims without going in for construction of permanent structures”.

The move diverting land in the valley for pilgrims headed to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva created a furore in the Kashmir Valley. On July 1, the government revoked the decision, quietening Kashmir but leading to violent protests in Jammu that only stopped two months later on Aug 31 with the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS) and a panel set up by Governor N.N. Vohra arriving at an accord over the use of the controversial 40 hectares of land in Baltal.

The order clarified that the proprietary status of the land shall remain unchanged and it will be “returned to the forest department when it is no longer required by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB)”.

In a conscious attempt to dispel fears about demographic change, the accord says tented accommodation and other facilities can only be provided by locals and permanent residents of the state.

“The board shall use the aforesaid land for the duration of the yatra (including the period of making the required arrangements and winding up of the same) for the purpose of user by various service providers according to its needs and priorities,” it states.

Many experts say the agreement is an improvement over the cabinet order in so much as it makes clear that the land will only be used for the duration of the ‘yatra’ (pilgrimage) - which is usually for two months - and reiterates that there is no change in the proprietary status of the land.

The Aug 31 agreement also specifically mentions the uses to which the land diverted for building temporary facilities for pilgrims can be put.

Lt. Gen (retd) S.K. Sinha, then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, during whose tenure the decision to give land to the shrine board was taken, however, feels that the original cabinet order and the Jammu accord is the same in intent.

“The whole thing was a waste of time. You go back to the original cabinet order,” Sinha said.

Added Ajai Sahni, an expert on terrorism and a commentator on Kashmir-related issues: “There is no change. There is no transfer of the ownership of land which was also clearly stated in the cabinet order.”

However, he said the accord “consolidates the existing arrangement” and contains several specific points to assuage fears of demographic change which were whipped up separatists in the valley that put pressure on the government to revoke the cabinet order July 1.

“In the earlier cabinet order, the SASB was required to pay around Rs 2.5 crore (Rs.25 million) for using the land. But this has been omitted in the accord to avert giving the impression that there was any change in the proprietary status of the land,” Sahni told IANS.

Sahni added that had the government pro-actively countered misinformation about the land order earlier, the state could have been spared the months of turmoil and violence marked by a resurgence of separatist sentiment among some sections in the valley.

Sushobha Barve, a well-known peace activist who has been promoting intra-Kashmir dialogue, agreed that the original land diversion order was “misperceived and misinterpreted” by some sections and parties to suit their interests.

“The government did not come forward to explain the original order and subsequent revocation of the order. This allowed people to interpret it the way they liked it,” she said.

Barve suggested that the government should publish the text of the accord in English, Hindi and Urdu in leading national and local dailies so that it is not misrepresented.

The government has acknowledged in the joint statement issued at the end of talks between SAYSS and the governor’s panel that the accord has been designed “to ensure against any remaining misunderstanding whatsoever on an issue which has earlier led to serious misperceptions and grade human and economic loss”.

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