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Governor takes shrine U-turn, Mufti crows

Srinagar, June 29: Governor N.N. Vohra today withdrew the demand for forest land on behalf of the Amarnath shrine board, the issue on which the People’s Democratic Party dumped the state’s Congress-led government yesterday.

The PDP quickly claimed credit for the development a day after blasting the government for its failure to revoke the land allotment order, which set off days of violent protests across the state and claimed three lives.

“Our sacrifices have yielded positive results and we have succeeded in making things happen,” party president Mehbooba Mufti said. “The land diversion now stands automatically revoked.”

Chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, made it clear he did not want the former ally back in the government although his ministry has been reduced to minority. Azad, who has accused the PDP of pushing the land deal and then doing an about-turn, today got the governor to accept the resignation of its ministers.

Vohra withdrew the demand for the 40 hectares of forest land in Baltal — where the Amarnath authorities wanted to build camps for pilgrims — in his capacity as chairman of the shrine board.

He took the decision after the state government said that it itself, instead of the board, would provide all the facilities the pilgrims need.

“In view of the state government’s firm commitment… the SASB (Shri Amarnath Shrine Board) does not need to pursue its earlier request for forest land,” Vohra wrote to Azad.

This means the yatra will now be managed by the state, with the board’s role reduced to mere “conducting of the puja at the holy cave”.

Vohra also said the land had been allotted temporarily and had yet not been paid for by the board.

He added that false information about a permanent allotment, spread by certain groups, had led to the protests and the deaths and reduced pilgrim and tourist inflow.

Azad said the allotment order could be revoked when the cabinet met.

However, the bandh continued for the seventh day with the separatists refusing to step back. But there was less violence on the streets despite police and mobs clashing at several places.

“We want the land transfer order revoked and its copies shown to the people. Unless that happens, the protests will not stop,” Hurriyat “moderate” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said.

The Sangh parivar called a Jammu bandh on Monday to protest the government’s “surrender”. State BJP chief Ashok Khujuria said the President should immediately recall the governor, who “has become an agent of the Congress”.

Azad said his minority government would last till November 2, the date on which its six-year term expires.

In the 87-member Assembly, the Congress has 21 MLAs plus eight Independents who have been designated associate members. The party is banking on the support of the two CPM legislators and four other Independents whom it presented before the media.

Azad is also eyeing three “rebel” PDP legislators, among whom Ghulam Hassan Mir has been expelled for anti-party activities and Ghulam Hassan Khan is suspended in a sex scandal.

Although still short of numbers, state Congress chief Saifuddin Soz said the party might tell the governor it is “ready for a floor test, if necessary”.

The National Conference, with 24 MLAs, is unlikely to support the government at a time it is deeply unpopular in the Valley. The Panthers Party, a one-time Congress ally with four MLAs, too says it wants President’s rule.

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