Jammu happy, Kashmir upset at shrine land row accord (Roundup)

August 31st, 2008 - 10:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu/Srinagar, Aug 31 (IANS) The two-month long agitation in Jammu was called off Sunday after the government allowed Amarnath shrine board temporary use of forest land in the Kashmir Valley that was at the heart of religious riots in the state.But the decision over the bitter land row, arrived at between a governmental panel and a conglomerate of Hindu groups, sparked off fresh protests in the Muslim-majority valley, even as Jammu celebrated it as a landmark victory.

What the Hindu agitationists viewed as the triumph of tehir cause was, however, marred by curfew and call to the army all over the Jammu region early Sunday, in anticipation of a terrorist strike at a rally planned by the Hindu groups.

“There are terrorists around and we have to flush them out,” said a senior police official, adding that two militants were sighted in Raipur-Domana area on the outskirts of Jammu city, close to Chinore where three terrorists killed three of the hostages they took in a house before being eliminated by the army Wednesday.

Sunday morning, Kashmiri separatists and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the accord formula, as the National Conference said the agreement suited “every requirement”.

In the early hours Sunday, in Jammu, the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS) and a panel set up by Governor N.N. Vohra struck accord over the use of the controversial 40 hectares of land in Baltal in north Kashmir during the Hindu pilgrimage.

After five rounds of talks, Sudhir Singh Bloeria, the advisor to the governor, and Samiti convenor Leela Karan Sharma announced at a joint press conference at 4.45 a.m. that an agreement has been reached over the contentious issue.

Reading out the broad contours of the agreement, Bloeria said the land at Baltal and Domail should be set aside exclusively for the use of the shrine board during the pilgrimage.

He added the board would be reconstituted and would be responsible for conducting the pilgrimage to the cave shrine from the two routes - the traditional Pahalgam route and the shorter but tougher route via Baltal.

Bloeria said the title of the land would remain unchanged. It was also agreed that the shops and other structures on the controversial land would be the responsibility of the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

Following the decision, people in Jammu took out jubilation rallies but the valley reacted with protests.

Authorities were compelled to re-impose curfew in a few places in the valley after demonstrations erupted against the government’s decision.

“Curfew relaxation was withdrawn and re-imposed in the area immediately as violent protests erupted,” a police official told IANS in Srinagar.

National Conference patron and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said the peace plan worked out by the governor’s administration suited every requirement.

“Nobody should have any objection to it. I am confident the two regions of the state would live in harmony with each other in the future now,” Abdullah said.

He said it was the time life returned to normal in the state so that the future of the children here did not suffer any longer.

But Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP president, said: “The unilateral decision on land use for Amarnath pilgrimage is a move to disrespect the popular sentiments in (the) Kashmir Valley.”

She said any decision on this sensitive matter should have been taken only with consensus, and after consultation with the Kashmir’s separatist joint co-ordination committee and the civil society here.

“The solution arrived at with the Sangarsh Samiti in Jammu is not a Jammu and Kashmir peace formula as is being presented, but a purely Jammu appeasement policy which will only further increase the alienation of Kashmiris where the popular sentiments and just aspirations are being throttled with brute force.”

The coordination committee of separatist Hurriyat Conference factions also rejected the agreement on use of land by the management of the Amarnath cave shrine for pilgrim facilities.

“We out rightly reject the agreement reached between the government and the Sangarsh Samiti,” said spokesman of the Hurriyat coordination committee Masarat Alam.

Jammu and Kashmir has been witnessing widespread violent demonstrations for more than two and a half months now.

The protests were triggered following the dispute over the piece of land “diverted” to the shrine board for creating facilities for the pilgrims.

The diversion was later cancelled July 1 following a backlash in the valley. When order was reversed, Hindus staged demonstrations, blocking the movement of goods to the valley from the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Nearly 50 people have died, mostly in police and paramilitary firing, in the turmoil, stoked by both separatist leaders in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and Hindu extremists in Jammu.

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