Shri Amarnath pilgrimage in the South Kashmir Himalayas in Jammu & Kashmir has remained in controversies for a number of times and now it has been wrapped in a fresh one. National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday declared it as a silence zone.
The declaration was misunderstood and issue got heated up in Jammu & Kashmir and outside. Almost all the mainstream national and regional political parties including ruling BJP, opposition Congress and National Conference and some religious organizations joined hands against the NGT's declaration.
NGT on their part issued a clarification on the Amarnath issue saying that they are only requesting devotees to maintain silence when in front of the "Amarnath Ji Maha Shivling". Hence the silence restriction will not apply on Aarti (prayers) and other rituals inside the cave shrine. But political parties in the state still issued statement against the notice.
Ruling BJP's reaction:
BJP spokesperson at J&K, Prof. Virender Gupta took strong note of National Green Tribunal (NGT) declaring Amarnath cave shrine as 'silent zone'. He said that NGT decision of prohibiting chanting of mantras, religious 'kirtan' and carrying anything from the stairs leading to the holy cave has been taken without making any scientific analysis about the effects of the sound created due to chanting of mantras and religious slogans nearby Shiva cave. Prof. Virender said that the decision of NGT is going to seriously hurt the religious sentiments of the people without any justification of the prohibiting steps suggested.
Opposition Congress reaction:
Expressing dismay over the NGT order totally prohibiting the religious offerings beyond entry points and chanting of religious hymns near historical Shri Amarnath Shrine, Ravinder Sharma Chief Spokesperson J&K Congress has said that religious sentiments of pilgrims should be respected at all costs while taking care of the ecological concerns.
In a statement Sharma termed the order as quite "harsh" hurting the religious sentiments of pilgrims visiting the shrine and demanded review of the same in order to take care of the religious sentiments and faith of the people. He said that although the NGT has taken cognizance of the ecology concerns of the area in and around of the Holy Shrine and also pointed out need for proper infrastructural facilities to have clear darshan, it was also required to take care of religious sentiments attached to the chanting of hymns and religious offerings.
National Conference also reacts:
National Conference, provincial president Devender Singh Rana has decried the NGT directive on declaring route to Shri Amarnath Cave Shrine on Kashmir Himalyas as 'silence zone', describing it infringement of religious rights.
"We respect judicial processes and have regard for NGT but expect as well that there should be no interference in the matters of faith", Rana said.
Rana said the sentiments of a section of society have been hurt by this unjust directive which comes weeks after the NGT directive on reducing the number of pilgrims to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. "We fail to reconcile with one after another directive in recent weeks on the two important pilgrimages of Jammu and Kashmir", he said and made a strong plea to Governor N N Vohra, who is also Chairperson of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to take up the issue with the NGT for corrective measures.
What Kashmiri Pandit Migrants said:
All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee (APMCC) has taken a serious note of the diktat of NGT ordering ban on chanting of religious Mantras and ringing of bells during Baba Amarnath Ji yatra terming it a Talibani diktat and warning of dire consequences. In a statement issued here the APMCC president Vinod Pandit warned NGT for interfering into religious affairs of Hindus and rejected out-rightly the order issued by it.
Hindu Takht challenges the order in SC:
Rashtriya Pracharak Shri Hindu Takht, president Viresh Shandilya in his statement termed the NGT order a "Non Sense Order" and said Hindus were not responsible for every ecological problem on earth. "We appeal to the Government of India to stop hurting the religious sentiments all the time for one or the other reason and to get the NGT to withdraw such a Tughlaki farmaan at once and we will challenge the order in the Supreme Court," Shandilya said.
Previous Controversies on Amarnath Pilgrimage:
1: In May 2008, the government of India and state government of J&K reached an agreement to transfer 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) in Kashmir valley to set up temporary shelters and facilities for pilgrims. This caused a controversy, with demonstrations from the Kashmir valley against the land transfer and protests from the Jammu region supporting it. The violent protests continued till Sep 2008 and public property of worth crores destroyed in the protests at Kashmir and Jammu region.
2: In June 2006, The controversy of manmade ice-lingam inside the cave shrine had erupted and the then Governor SK Sinha, who was also chairman of SASB orders an inquiry.
3: In year 2004: The extension of duration had itself been a bone of contention between the State and SASB. The then PDP-Congress coalition govt headed by CM Mufti Sayeed was reluctant to extend the Yatra period in 2004 as desired by the then Governor S K Sinha who is also the chairman of SASB. However Governor's will prevailed. Since then the Yatra duration has consistently been extended to two months.
4: In year 2000, the then Farooq Abdullah's state government formed the Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine Board through an act passed by the state legislature.
5: In early 90's the issue of Amarnath Yatra security remained in light, when during peak militancy the annual pilgrimage was under heavy threats.