Kashmir relatively calm, Jammu protests U-turn on land row (Roundup)

June 30th, 2008 - 5:39 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ali G

Srinagar/Jammu, June 30 (IANS) Tension in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley was less heightened Monday but the Hindu-majority Jammu strongly protested the government’s “U-turn” on the Amarnath land row as some angry youths attacked the office of the Peoples Democratic Party. In the valley, that saw violent protests during the past week, life remained disturbed due to a shutdown for the seventh day against the forest land row even after the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) relinquished its claim on the controversial land. But no violent protests were witnessed Monday.

Severe shortages of petrol, diesel, kerosene, cooking gas, vegetables, and other foodstuffs have hit the summer capital Srinagar as supplies from outside the valley have drastically decreased because of the worsened law and order situation.

All petrol pumps in the city have stopped selling petrol and diesel to consumers as they claim their stocks have already been exhausted.

Educational institutions, markets, banks and other businesses remained closed as public transport was also off the roads. Attendance in government offices was marginal.

Though youths took to streets at a number of places in the old city areas burning old tyres, tensions were definitely less heightened. Adequate security measures were taken to ensure protesters were prevented from resorting to violence.

Hundreds of Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath cave shrine continued their journey and despite the general shutdown vehicles carrying the pilgrims to and from the north Kashmir Baltal base camp plied normally.

Since the SASB reverted the conduct and management of the annual pilgrimage to the state government Sunday, the administration was geared up to ensure that the pilgrimage proceeds peacefully.

Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of a raging political and communal crisis triggered by the controversial March 5 order of the state government transferring 40 hectares of forest land to the SASB, which used to manage the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir.

Kashmir has been bracing with violent protests against the transfer of the land to the SASB. Five people were killed in alleged police firing. Kashmiris allege the board would settle “outsiders” there and change the demography of the state.

Succumbing to the public pressure, Governor N.N. Vohra, who is also ex-officio chairman of the SASB, Sunday gave up the claim on the land and asked the state government to manage the annual Hindu pilgrimage on its own.

The move was welcomed in the valley but invited public irk in Jammu, which observed a near complete shutdown Monday in response to a call by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Activists of the saffron brigade clashed with the police during the protests against the decision not to hand over forest land to Amarnath shrine board. Police baton charged the demonstrators at Vikram Chowk where agitated youth were trying to put up a road block. The protesters were demanding removal of Vohra as the SASB chairman and the governor of the state.

Shops and business establishments remained closed and transport was off the road in the city as protesters marched shouting slogans and burning effigies of the governor, chief minister and estranged coalition partner PDP’s patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

An agitated mob threw stones at PDP headquarters in Jammu.

The PDP, which pulled out of the coalition government Saturday, was among the parties leading the campaign for the revocation of the land transfer order. This despite the fact that two of its ministers, that for forests and for law, had signed the order.

Senior PDP leader Ved Mahajan was on the premises when the mob came raging and stoned the office. However, no damage was caused as the police chased the demonstrators and resorted to baton charge.

Meanwhile, the action committee constituted by the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, separatist party headed by Syed Ali Geelani and supported by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq’s moderate Hurriyat group, has said the ongoing protests in Kashmir would continue unless the state government passed a cabinet order formally rescinding its earlier order that had allotted 40 hectares of forest to the SASB in the Baltal area.

Mainstream parties, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, have also demanded the rescinding of the land allotment order in black and white by the state government.

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