100 tents, 4 yatra langars damaged; 5 arrested
IRFAN RAINA | July 18
At least 24 people were injured in clashes in Baltal area of Sonamarg, which serves as base camp for Amarnath yatra, after a scuffle between a ponywala and one of the members of a free yatra langer (Free community kitchen) over some issue.
At least 100 tents and four yatra langars were damaged in the fire while authorities suspended yatra from the route.
Sources said early this morning, a ponywala identified as Naib Khan son of Sardar Khan of Kupwara had a verbal brawl with one of the members of a yatra langer near Domail, 2 kilometers from base camp Baltal, over some issue.
“The heated argument between the two resulted into a scuffle in which the ponywala sustained injuries. He was reportedly stabbed by a person from the yatra langar with a sharp knife,” they said adding the victim was referred to SKIMS, Soura for specialized treatment.
As the news about the incident spread, hundreds of people took to streets to protest against the incident.
The ponywalas, laborers, tent owners and shopkeepers tried to stage a protest demonstration at the Baltal base camp. However, the police and paramilitary personnel deployed there resorted to baton charge. The angry mob retaliated by pelting stones on the forces and yatra langer, triggering clashes.
The protesters also pelted stones on the chopper carrying some senior officials to Baltal and forced the chopper to leave without the officials.
After about half an hour, the chopper returned to Baltal base camp for the officials.
Eyewitness said CRPF personnel went berserk and beat the people and allegedly damaged the property worth lakhs of rupees.
Over two dozen people were injured in the clashes after CRPF men fired in air and lobbed teargas shells to disperse the protesters. Six policemen were also injured during the clashes.
According to reports and eyewitness about 100 tents of various camping agencies caught fire during the clashes.
Sources said four free langars also caught fire.
The fire spread rapidly in the tents and langars due to gas cylinders that were inside these tents and langars.
“The members from the langars came and beat us. CRPF men also supported them,” said Abdul Majeed, a tent owner, who was injured in the clashes.
Officials said atleast a dozen fire tenders were called to douse the fire.
Sources said after the clashes, yatra from the route was suspended.
Meanwhile, senior civil and police officials visited the spot to take stock of the situation.
Official sources said that Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Shailender Kumar, CEO SASB R K Gupta, IGP Kashmir Abdul Gani Mir, DIG CKR Syed Afad ul Mujtaba along Deputy Commissioner Ganderbal Sarmad Hafeez and SP Ganderbal Shahid Mehraj held a meeting with SASB officials at Baltal base camp.
A police official said situation was brought under control and all the yatries are safe.
Police sources said five persons including two CRPF men from 54 bn CRPF, two SASB personnel and one person from a Langer were arrested for instigating the trouble in the area.
A senior police official wishing not to be named said five persons were caught red handed while setting some tents on fire.
“They have been arrested,” he said.
CRPF spokesman, Kishore Prasad, rejected the allegations that any CRPF men were involved in the incident.
“The allegations are baseless and our men were not involved in the incident. We are there for safety of the people,” he said.
Meanwhile, locals from Sonamarg, Kullan, Kangan and adjoining areas protested against the Baltal incident. The protesters blocked Srinagar-Leh highway for several hours and halted the traffic movement.
Later, police swung into action and dispersed the protesters.
Meanwhile, Governor N N Vohra, who is chairman of SASB, appealed for peace and harmony saying it is essential for the satisfactory progress of the pilgrimage.
“On being informed about a disharmonious incident between two yatra service providers at the Baltal Yatra Camp, Vohra asked the Chief Executive Officer of SASB to immediately proceed to the camp and ensure that harmony is fully restored with the help of district Administration,” an official spokesman said.
He said Governor also discussed the matter with Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, under whose direction the Divisional Commissioner (Kashmir), Shailendra Kumar, and IGP Kashmir Abdul Gani Mir, also rushed to Baltal.
Meanwhile, Minister for PHE, Irrigation & Flood Control, Sham Lal Sharma, along with senior officers of civil and police administration today visited Shri Amarnath Yatra base camp at Baltal and took stock of the situation that has arisen due to some unpleasant incident occurred between the service providers there.
The Minister interacted with the officials of SASB, langerwalas and ponywalas and obtained the necessary feedback about the incident. He urged the service providers to maintain peace and order to ensure smooth yatra. He also directed the police and civil administration to keep close watch on the situation to ensure smooth conduct of yatra and safety of yatries and all service providers. The Minister also directed the administration to enquire into the matter and take stern action against the culprits as per the law.
Those accompanied the Minister at Baltal included, Principal Secretary to Governor (CEO SASB), Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, senior police officers.