Kashmir parties call for peace over Amarnath land row

August 2nd, 2008 - 12:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, Aug 2 (IANS) Many political outfits in Jammu and Kashmir, who opposed transferring a plot of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, have pledged to strengthen the temple trust, in an all parties’ “appeal for peace”. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference are among the various regional and national parties who have also vowed to help the shrine board in handling the “increasing number of pilgrims every year”.

Former chief minister and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti are among the signatories of the appeal published in newspapers here Saturday.

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have not signed the appeal.

The call for peace follows an all party meeting with Governor N.N. Vohra here Friday evening.

“It is our commitment to support the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in discharging its responsibility for managing the yatra (pilgrimage) and to progressively strengthen the same, to meet the increasing number of pilgrims every year,” read the appeal.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees every year visit the Amarnath cave shrine, a high altitude temple in south Kashmir devoted to Lord Shiva.

The state government May 26 had issued an order to transfer about 40 hectares of forest land in north Kashmir to the shrine board to house the pilgrims, triggering violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

While raising environmental concerns, Kashmiri leaders also alleged that the land would be used to settle non-locals and change the demography of the valley.

The land, as per the order, was meant to create “temporary and pre-fabricated” huts for facilities to the pilgrims.

The order was revoked July 1 silencing the protests in Kashmir but igniting a wave of violent opposition in Hindu-majority Jammu, which is reeling under a series of shutdowns and curfews for over a month now.

The appeal for peace bears the name of Farooq Abdullah first, followed by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.

It is a change from their parties’ earlier stand, calling for the revocation of the land transfer order.

The PDP then not only questioned the authority of the shrine board but was also protesting against longer duration of the pilgrimage and increasing number of pilgrims.

It had demanded the pilgrimage be only a fortnight-long and the number of pilgrims be limited to save the fragile ecology of Kashmir forests. The National Conference too had voiced environmental concerns due to the increasing rush of pilgrims.

Prominent among others who have signed the appeal are Bhim Singh of the Jammu and Kashmir National panthers Party, Sheikh Abdul Rehman of the Samajwadi Party, M.Y. Tarigami of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, Mangat Ram Sharma and Gulchain Singh Charak of the Congress.

This year, the Amarnath pilgrimage began June 18 and will last till Aug 16. So far, according to Governor Vohra, who is also ex-officio chairman of the SASB, 536,000 pilgrims have visited the shrine, which is a new high. In 2005, 400,000 devotees had visited the shrine.

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