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State Govt Takes Over Yatra, Revokes Controversial Order

Srinagar, June 29: The Jammu and Kashmir government on Sunday tried to diffuse the ongoing crisis over transfer of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, announcing it will take over responsibility of organising the annual Amarnath yatra. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad further said that the forest land in question would stay with his government for now. 

The move came a day after the People's Democratic Party (PDP) pulled out of the Congress-led J&K government and its ministers submitted their resignation amid differences over allotment of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). 

The state government decided to take over all responsibilities to conduct the yatra from the Shrine Board after Governor N N Vohra asked for the same in a letter. The J&K Governor is the chairman of the SASB. 

The decision of the J&K government effectively means the Shrine Board is left with no responsibility of organising the Amarnath yatra. In his letter, the Governor had also stated that he was willing to withdraw his claim for the forest land allotted to the SASB for providing facilities to Amarnath yatra pilgrims. 

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has welcomed the government’s move, but refused to rejoin the government. Meanwhile, Azad has asked the Governor to accept PDP ministers’ resignations. 

The controversy started on March 5 when the state cabinet allotted 39.88 hectares of forest land in Baltal of north Kashmir to the Amarnath Shrine Board for providing facilities to Hindu pilgrims. 

The state government had on Saturday removed SASB CEO Arun Kumar from his post, amid ongoing violent protests and counter-protests both in the Valley and Jammu region over the land transfer. Three people were killed while hundreds were injured in the protests spanning six days. 

The state government was made to clarify that the land was not allotted to the Shrine Board but only “temporarily diverted”, after Kumar said the board would build concrete structures on the land. The government made it clear that SASB had no authority to erect permanent structures there. 

Mehbooba Mufti said yesterday that her party decided to withdraw from the government because of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's “indifference to the people's demand to rescind the forest land allotment order to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board”. The PDP ministers had forwarded their resignation letters to Azad and the Governor.

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