Monday, August 18th, 2008
The most unfortunate controversy regarding the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has now dragged on for several weeks, and has already caused tragic loss of life, massive destruction of property and acute inconvenience to common citizens both in the Jammu region and in Kashm
ir. The situation is repeatedly deteriorating and unless urgent measures are taken to bring about an amicable solution, the whole matter may well spin out of control. I have been anxiously following developments and would now like to suggest a 5-point formula that, in my view, could help to defuse the situation and restore peace and tranquility in this crucial and sensitive border state.
I am making these proposals not in any party or partisan capacity, but because I have been associated with this sacred Yatra for six decades and am still Chairman-Trustee of the Mahadev Veer Dashnami Akahara Trust where, near the Badshah bridge in Srinagar, the Chhari Mubarak (the Sacred Mace) of Lord Shiva resides under the care of the Mahant. It is the movement of this Chhari which is still considered to be the major religious function connected with Yatra, leaving Srinagar on Naga Panchami and reaching the holy cave on Raksha Bandhan Purnima. Let us remember that this whole issue revolves around a sacred cave dedicated to Lord Shiva, and must therefore be approached with humility and devotion. It is in this spirit that I am making the following proposals.
1) Unfortunately, the arrival of the new Governor Shri N.N.Vohra marked the beginning of the second phase of serious unrest, this time in Jammu, which is showing no signs of abetting. I have high personal regards for Shri Vohra, but under the circumstances I am obliged to suggest that he should be considered for some other state where his administrative experience and skills can be better utilized.
2) I suggest that in his place Gen. J.J.Singh, who is at present Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, be appointed as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir. Apart from his outstanding professional qualifications, he also happens to come from the State, with his family home being in Marwah in Doda District.
3) The relevant Act states, inter-alia that “the Governor of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, if he be a Hindu, shall be the ex-officio Chairman of the Board, and if the Governor be not a Hindu, then he may nominate any eminent person of the state, professing the Hindu religion, and otherwise qualified to be a Member to function as the Chairman of the Board.” With the appointment of Gen. Singh, the Amarnath Shrine Board can be reconstituted under a new Chairman with Members drawn from the Hindu community in Jammu & Kashmir including Kashmiri Pandits. For Chairman of the Board I suggest the name of Chief Justice (Retd.) A.S.Anand who also belongs to Jammu & Kashmir.
4) While the land continues to remain with the Forest Department, the State Government should work out and announce a time bound programme for construction of adequate facilities for pilgrims including shelters, cooking, sanitary and other arrangements. These should preferably be completed before the Yatra begins next year. The Yatra itself used to be traditionally for one month culminating in the Shravan Purnima on Raksha Bandhan day which falls in August. However, in view of the tremendous increase in the number of Yatris, the pilgrimage should be extended to two months starting from 1st July and ending on 31st August every year. During this period the entire management of the pilgrim facilities as well as arrangements for the Puja in the holy Cave should be given to the Shrine Board and the land itself could be leased on a temporary basis to the Board for these two months.
5) Victims of police firing in Kashmir and Jammu during this agitation should be paid suitable compensation to the next of kin of those killed, as well as to those injured. Blockade of the National Highway is not acceptable under any circumstances, and should be lifted immediately in the larger interest of the nation and its security.
I appeal to all concerned in Jammu as well as in Kashmir to now defuse the situation and not allow it to escalate further. I am acutely aware of the very strong feelings that have emerged on this issue in both regions. In a way these are a symptom of a deeper problem involving the relationship between the three regions of the State still with India – Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.This fundamental problem needs to be looked into carefully and a national consensus arrived at, but that can be done only after the next round of national and state elections. Meanwhile, the immediate imperative is to bring the law and order situation back to normal, so that people who are suffering acutely can once again resume their normal activities. Already tens of crores of rupees worth of tourism, trade and property have been damaged in both the regions. Enough is enough, and we must now return to the path of peace, harmony and cooperation. I sincerely hope that the 5-point programme I have outlined above will expedite this process.