Government intervens to resolve Amarnath pilgrimage row


Jammu : The Jammu and Kashmir government Monday made a last-ditch effort to bring about a settlement between Hindu religious groups and the Amarnath Shrine Board over the duration of the annual pilgrimage to the famed cave shrine in south Kashmir.

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A team of senior officials, including Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda, Home Secretary B.R. Sharma and Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister B.B. Vyas, arrived here Monday to facilitate talks between the board and the Hindu groups.

“We hope that the matter gets resolved through a negotiated settlement between the shrine board and the groups,” an official, involved in the effort, told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, the government failed in its effort Sunday to resolve the issue by sending members of religious groups by a helicopter to inspect the track leading to the Himalayan cave shrine, devoted to Lord Shiva.

The Baba Amarnath Yatra Nyas spokesman rejected the government’s plea that the snow on the mountains was causing delay to the start of the pilgrimage.

The Nyas, supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu groups, is insisting on starting the pilgrimage June 15 and concluding it August 13, Raksha Bandhan day – the traditional date of its end.

The shrine board has, however, curtailed the yatra duration to 45 days, which has angered the Hindu religious groups.

Meanwhile, the BJP spokesperson Jitendra Singh asked the government “not to interfere in religious affairs”.

“It’s not the job of the government to decide dates and duration of the pilgrimages”, he said, alleging that the shrine board “was trying to please separatists and the Kashmir centric parties that were keen on curtailing the pilgrimage period”.

“This is not acceptable to us,” the spokesman told newsmen here.

The Amarnath shrine is located at an altitude of 13,500 feet above sea level in the Pir Panjal range and it is approachable through mountainous tracks from south and central Kashmir.

The shrine board and the government claim that the routes are currently snow-bound, though snow clearance work is on and everything should be in place by June 25 for the pilgrimage’s official start June 29.