Amarnath Yatra: court vests authority with shrine board

Luv Puri

JAMMU: The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has vested powers with the Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board to conduct the annual pilgrimage. By this it has set at rest the controversy between the Raj Bhavan and the Chief Minister's Office.

The court has clearly stated that the Shrine Board will be the sole authority for the conduct of the pilgrimage and the State Government has no power to interfere in its functioning.

Justice Promod Kohli of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, in his judgment, held that no interference be caused by any of the State Government agency in the functioning of the Board and its decisions for the smooth conduct of yatra. It directed that the State and the Central Governments should provide adequate security to the yatris as a constitutional obligation. The direction was passed on a petition filed by the president of Punjab Shiv Sewa Samiti, which stated that it was aggrieved by certain decisions/actions taken by the State Government.

Duration of yatra

Last year, the Governor, S.K. Sinha, in his capacity as Chairman of the Shrine Board, had decided to extend the month-long Amarnath Yatra to two months to meet the rush of pilgrims. A day later, the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, shot down the proposal and publicly asserted that due to security reasons the yatra cannot be increased to more than a month.

The issue sparked off a rebellion within the Mufti Government. Protesting against the Chief Minister's decision not to accept the Governor's recommendation, five Ministers, belonging to the Congress, resigned. Ultimately, it called for the intervention of the Congress high command to defuse the situation and an agreement was reached that the yatra would be extended to 45 days.

Now, the court has clearly stated that the State Government has no authority to decide on the duration of the yatra. The court directed that if the Board feels and takes a "conscious decision" that the period of the yatra be extended to two months, the State should not object to it.

"The longer duration will decrease the rush on the track", the Court observed, adding that the decision of the Board for duration of the yatra based upon its assessment of improvement of the track and infrastructure should also be conveyed to the State Government at least two months in advance.

Last year, about four lakh pilgrims visited the shrine from both the routes during 45 days.

The court observed that since there was more improvement on the route this year, the Board should make a proper assessment of number of pilgrims to be allowed on each route a day.

The court asked the Board to take an objective view and take a decision at least two months before the pilgrimage begins.

The State should not interfere with such a decision, unless it finds proper reasons. The Court believes that the State will respect the decision of the Board based upon objective assessment.

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