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Reclaiming India ~ Tarun Vijay

By   /  August 7, 2008  /  3 Comments

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After all, the Amarnath Shrine Board was created on the recommendation of the Nitish Sengupta Committee formed by the state government in 1996 when more than 250 Amarnath pilgrims died in a snowstorm. That made the state government realize that facilities are inadequate and hence a committee was formed under the chairmanship of retired senior IAS officer Sengupta. The government accepted the recommendations of the committee a year later and decided to create a separate board on the pattern of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board through an act passed by the Farooq Abdullah goverment in 2000. The Secretary, Tourism Depaetment, was appointed CEO of the board.

Initially, toilets and other facilities were added but they proved inadequate as neither the office of the shrine board was set up nor any staff worth its name was appointed. It was only when Gen. SK Sinha took over as Governor in 2003 and hence became Chairman of the Shrine Board that the office was established with Arun Kumar, IAS, as its full-time CEO. Kumar changed the entire gamut and pilgrims were provided with livable camping facilities.

Earlier, mahants and local interest groups were taking home all the offerings of the shrine. Now the shrine board regulated the income, spending it on providing more facilities to pilgrims and regularizing the fare structure regarding pony hiring, collies, camping sites, toilets and emergency medical help. The chief mahant was given huge compensation and other Muslim helpers were employed in the board. Kumar also introduced bacterial toilets using the latest Japanese technology which was environment-friendly and turned night soil into usable fertilizer for local farmers. Prior to this, concrete toilets had proved a colossal waste as they would get choked and the entire structure needed to be demolished. But this had proved profitable for the local contractors; hence, when the new green technology was introduced the contractors? lobby protested and the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayed, halted the work in 2005. As a result of it, the Shrine Board approached the High Court which gave a stay order and the work continued.

It’s noteworthy that during the while that the Secretary, Tourism was acting as the CEO of the Shrine Board, all the toilets and camping facilities were constructed on government land and nobody objected. It was only when the bribe channels were stopped for the politicians protests that they objected to government land being used for pilgrims. Hence, after the stay was obtained from the High Court, the Shrine Board asked the state government in 2005 to regularise use of government land by formally transferring a few plots of land to the board en route to the Amarnath shrine. It took three years to take a decision and finally on May 26 this year, the state cabinet passed a proposal diverting (not selling or leasing) 38 hectares of land near Baltal to the Shrine Board on a temporary basis at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore. The Minister of Forest, under whose jurisdiction the land was diverted for the Shrine Board’s use, was a member of the PDP headed by Mufti.

After the order was signed, word spread that a huge amount of land had been given to Hindus and now they would come and outnumber Muslims. It’s a plot against Kashmiri Muslims, it was argued. An anarchical agitation began with Mufti, the Hurriyat and Omar Abdullah uniting to deprive Hindu pilgrims a camping facility.

They needed to support their false presumptions and Arun Kumar’s press briefing was used for this purpose by communalising his innocuous statement regarding environment and Hindu-Muslim solidarity. Kumar’s entire press briefing is audio recorded and though he has been suspended and an inquiry instituted, nothing can be proved against him. In fact he is being punished for providing pilgrims better facilities.

This is the genesis of the whole issue.

The same government has given hundreds of acres of land to Baba Gulam Shah Badshah University in Rajouri and to the Islamic University in Pampore. None objected. The all-encompassing nature of Hindus is taken for granted as is their timidity.

You can tell the facts to those who would like to consider them and not to those who play petty communal politics. Governor Vohra acted on the advice of North Block and not only took back the letter for land allotment on behalf of the Shrine Board without taking board members into confidence, but also gave the charge of providing facilities to the pilgrims back to the state tourism department, which means the same murky business flowering again. With the Shrine Board having no CEO at present, since Kumar’s suspension hasn’t been revoked, yatra arrangements are in limbo. The Governor’s secretary, who has a hundred other tasks, has been asked to take care of the yatra.

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About the author

An IT Professional based in Pune, India. A Traveler, Photographer and Blogger. Self Proclaimed Middle of the Right.

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