Sec 144 imposed in Katra, fasting labourers lifted

As Katra observed a complete shutdown today to express solidarity with the agitating Ponywallas and Pithoos, Police swooped on protesting labourers and shifted five of them, who were observing fast unto death, to hospital while the District Administration imposed Section 144 in the town.
In a late night development, Police had to use force and mild lathicharge for dispersing the labourers, who were strongly demonstrating against `forced’ lifting of their five colleagues by the Police. However, no one was injured in the Police action, eyewitnesses said.
Five members of the Katra Sangharsh Samiti, who were sitting on fast unto death for the last five days, were shifted to District Hospital Reasi on the advise of BMO Katra while the dharna venue has been evicted from the protesters following imposition of Section 144 in the town, SSP Reasi, Sujit Kumar told the Excelsior and insisted that there was no lathicharge by Police to disperse the agitating labourers. Further, the SSP added, Section 144 has been imposed just to ban processions or protest demonstrations and there will be no restriction on the pilgrims, tourists and general movement of public.
Pertinent to mention that for the last more than one week, the agitating Ponywalla and Pithoos are protesting against Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board for its purported move of starting battery car service on the new track from Katra to Bhawan.
Extending their support to the protesting labourers, all the businessmen, traders and hoteliers of the holy town, under the banner of Katra Sangarsh Samiti, today observed a complete shutdown, which led to hardships to the visiting pilgrims.
All Autos rickshaws and taxis also remained off the road while the pilgrims had to travel on foot, along with their luggage, from the Bus Stand to Ban Ganga area.  Due to the strike, the number of pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi registered a drastic dip on Wednesday and Katra bazaars as well as the ever busy track to the Bhawan wore a deserted look.
Earlier, the agitating Pithoos and Ponywallas, under the banner of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Sangarsh Samiti Katra, assembled this morning at Katra Town and held protest demonstration. They raised slogans against Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board authorities and demanded that battery car service should not be started from Katra on the new track as the same will severely affect their earnings.
Former minister Abdul Gani Malik and Ex-MLA Balwant Singh Mankotia also joined the protest.  The other union leaders also shared stage with protestors.
While highlighting the grievance of labourers, their union leader Bhupinder Singh lamented that the Shrine Board was ruining the lives of poor labourers. “Shrine Board has always played double standard games. The officials are saying that they are not going to start battery car service on the new track but at the same time, the Shrine Board has no answer to explain why the new track has been developed,” he said and added that the ongoing agitation would continue till the Shrine Board gives in writing that the track will not be used for battery cars.
The union also announced to take out a march from Katra to Governor House for registering the labourers’ protest against Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

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