Solution to Amarnath row in sight; talks progress


Jammu : A solution to the festering Amarnath land row in Jammu and Kashmir seemed to be in sight as a government panel and agitators met late Saturday for the third round of talks.

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After two rounds of talks earlier in the day, representatives of the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS), leading the agitation for restoring land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), and Governor N.N. Vohra’s panel started the third round of talks at 9.45 p.m., more than two-and-a-half hours behind schedule.

Both sides were trying to work out their respective drafts to find concurrence and devise a formula that could help end the agitation in Jammu region on the land issue.

During the second round of talks that lasted for about one-and-a-half hours, the focus was on the diversion of the piece of land at Baltal in north Kashmir for about three months.

According to informed sources, both sides made a “substantial progress” in resolving their differences at the end of the second round of talks.

Though the government side remained tight-lipped over the nature of the progress, SASS spokesperson Suchet Singh said the talks were “fruitful and productive”.

“We are progressing,” he told waiting reporters.

The sources said the government was willing to give 40 hectares of land in north Kashmir to the shrine board for use during the pilgrimage period of two or three months. The issue of how it would be done was being sorted out.

SASS leaders have discussed with experts on how to arrive at a more specific legal definition of the diversion of the land to the shrine board.

According to sources from both sides, they were inching towards a solution that would help in normalising the situation in Jammu region, where SASS-led the agitation for the restoration of the land to the shrine board has been going on for almost two-and-a-half months.

“We have exchanged constructive views with each other and will meet again,” the governor’s adviser S.S. Bloeria, who led the four-member panel, told reporters after the first round of talks in the morning.

The SASS leaders said the talks were held in a “cordial atmosphere”.

“The dialogue shall succeed,” said SASS spokesperson Tilak Raj Sharma.

The state government had May 26 transferred a 40-hectare plot of land to the SASB but withdrew the order following protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley. The revocation July 1 ignited an agitation in the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

The SASS insists that the land be restored to the shrine board. “Nothing short of it,” Suchet Singh had told reporters before the talks started.

The government panel includes Bloeria, retired high court judge G.D. Sharma, Jammu University vice chancellor Amitabh Mattoo and SASB CEO B.B. Vyas, who is also the governor’s principal secretary.

The SASS representatives are Tilak Raj Sharma, Narinder Singh and Pawan Kohli.