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Kashmir Government Ally Pulls Out Over Controversial Land Transfer

  • Shahnawaz Khan

A key partner to the Congress led government in Indian administered Kashmir has pulled its support due to the controversial transfer of land to a Hindu Shrine by state government. The pull-out by the People's Democratic Party leaves the government with a minority in the state's legislature. The land transfer, in the overwhelmingly Muslim area, has sparked widespread protests that left at least three people dead and hundreds injured over the past week. Shahnawaz Khan reports from Srinagar.

The People's Democratic Party, or PDP, had threatened to pull out if the government did not revoke the controversial transfer of forested land to a Hindu Shrine Board.

The PDP, which had been a part of the transfer decision, has been demanding its revocation after large scale public uproar over the issue.

The state government had transferred about 100 acres of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, which manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave shrine in the Himalayas.
Thousands of devotees trek each summer to pay homage to an ice stlalagmite inside the Amarnath cave, considered to be a symbol of the Hindu god Lord Shiva.

The transfer has stirred a large scale uproar in the region with Kashmiri separatists calling the transfer a conspiracy to settle Indian Hindus in the largely Muslim region.

Local laws forbid sale of land in Kashmir to outsiders including Indian citizens. Selling forest land for non forest use is also prohibited.

On Saturday, the Peoples Democratic Party held an emergency meeting amid escalating protests in the region.

The Party President Mehbooba Mufti briefed reporters about the pull out decision after the meeting.

"We can't turn a blind eye to the sufferings of people. We can't be insensitive to the problems and crisis that is on the ground. We have decided to withdraw support to [of] this government. Our ministers have sent [a] resignation to [the] chief minister and our withdrawal letter has been sent to [the] governor," said Mufti.

The move may trigger early elections in the state which were slated for October. However state's chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said he was hopeful of a solution and that his government would complete its full term.

Protests over the land transfer issue have escalated into widespread pro-Independence demonstrations. On Friday tens of thousands of people came out on roads in the summer capital Srinagar in one of the biggest demonstrations in recent years and hoisted green flags on a historical clock in the main city square, where authorities hoist Indian flags on its independence and republic days.

Much of the recent controversy is blamed on the former governor of Indian administered Kashmir S. K. Sinha, who headed the Amarnath Shrina Board for the last six years. Sinha, a retired Indian army officer, was instrumental in extending the pilgrimage from its two weeks to two months despite strong reservations by ecologists and the state government.

Ecologists say the heavy influx of visitors puts a strain on the fragile mountain ecology on a large area surrounding the Amarnath cave.