New Delhi: Raising concerns over curtailing the duration of Amarnath Yatra, BJP on Wednesday urged the Government to restore its original four-months period to enable more and more pilgrims to take part in the pilgrimage.
   
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said neither pilgrims nor local Kashmiris are in favour of bringing down the number of Yatris, which is being reduced every year.
   
His colleagues demanded a reply from the government on the issue. However, the demand did not elicit any response from Government even as BJP members were on their feet seeking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's response, who was present.
   
As there was no word either from the Prime Minister or any of his Cabinet colleagues to the demand, BJP member Najma Heptulla asked the Chair, "If the LoP has brought to the notice of the House a very important issue, don't you think that the Leader of the House (Prime Minister) should respond to it?"
   
As the uproar continued over the demand, P J Kurien, who was in the Chair, said, "I cannot direct the Government. But, I have no objection if Government wishes to respond." Raising the issue, Jaitley earlier said he wished to draw the attention of the Government to a "systematic pattern" in last five years to reduce the Yatra period.
   
He said a very large number of pilgrims undergo this Yatra and as many as eight lakh Yatris had reached the shrine last year. Jaitley pointed out that while in 1950, the Yatra was open for four months when as many as 35 to 40 people visited every day, the Yatra duration got reduced since the constitution of the Amarnath Board to 60 days in 2009, which fell to 55 days in 2010 and further to 45 days in 2011.
   
"In 2012, effort is to bring it down further to 39 days," that too at a time when the number of pilgrims is increasing every year.
   
"I would urge the Government to reconsider this fact and restore the original duration of the Yatra," Jaitley said pointing out that Nitish Sengupta Committee had recommended that not more than 20,000 persons should be allowed to visit the shrine daily.
   
He said that reducing the period of the Yatra means the pressure will be to send more people to the shrine in a day. The Leader of Opposition also pointed out that all facilities provided for Yatra pilgrims are by local Kashmiris and they would not like to reduce its duration.
   
"Who are interested in reducing the duration of the Yatra?", Jaitley posed, and said, "There is a very small cross-section of people - separatists," who are forcing the authorities to reduce the Yatra duration to create terror.    

Soon after Jaitley took his seat after raising the issue, Venkaiah Naidu (BJP) rose to say that since the Leader of the House and Prime Minister is sitting he should respond. Kurien, however, made it clear that it is not necessary for the government to respond to all Zero Hour mentions.

(Agencies)

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