Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government said on Sunday that it would revoke its decision to transfer forest land to the Amarnath shrine trust, a move that could defuse mass protests by Muslims across the Himalayan region.
The week-long protests started when authorities said they had transferred nearly 40ha to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board to erect temporary shelters for the thousands of Hindu pilgrims who annually trek to a cave shrine in Kashmir.
The protests, some of the biggest since a separatist rebellion broke out in 1989, have widened to become pro-independence rallies. Three people have been shot dead by police and hundreds have been hurt in clashes.
Asked at a news conference if the government would revoke the land move, state chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad replied, “Yes”.
The government decision comes the day after a key partner in J&K’s ruling coalition, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), withdrew support over the land transfer.
Separatist leaders say the land transfer was aimed at changing the demography of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority region. Environmentalists say any construction on forest land could ruin the region’s fragile ecology.
The authorities have denied the charge.
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, head of Kashmir’s main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said the “peaceful protests” would continue until authorities produced a “written revocation order”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a shutdown on Monday and demanded the removal of Amarnath shrine board chairman and J&K governor N.N. Vohra after the board gave up its claim on the forest land allotted to it.
BJP’s state unit said the party will soon launch a nationwide agitation on the issue and demanded the dismissal of the state government.
Meanwhile, thousands of policemen attempted unsuccessfully to keep people off the streets in Kashmir on Sunday as mass protests continued for a seventh day.
As the unrest deepened, police and paramilitary soldiers turned out in full force in Srinagar, the region’s main city, in an attempt to enforce what amounted to an undeclared curfew.
But the police could not keep the roads clear, and protesters burned tyres and blocked roads. Police used tear gas and opened fire to disperse the crowds, a Central Reserve Police Force spokesman said.
The pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine, meanwhile, was suspended on Sunday due to bad weather as at least 30 pilgrims were injured in an accident and a policeman and woman died en route and at the shrine. The pilgrimage was resumed on Saturday after a two-day break as authorities had suspended it, apprehending attacks on it in the Kashmir valley.
PTI and Associated Press contributed to this story.