Srinagar: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday began his two-day Kashmir visit to give a healing touch to the restive Valley, with two trade bodies boycotting him as curfew was lifted from four districts and parts of Srinagar town but remained in force in other areas as a precautionary measure.
Barring stray incidents of stone-pelting, the day passed off peacefully.
As the situation in the troubled Valley, which was on the boil for several days following the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on 8 July in an encounter with security forces, somewhat eased, Home Minister Rajnath Singh began his visit to the state to take stock of the situation.
Singh met BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government, including Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh. A group of Muslim clerics also met Singh at the high-security Nehru Guest House. A delegation of Shikarawalas and houseboat owners also called on the Home Minister and apprised him of their problems.
A Home Ministry release said Singh would meet Governor NN Vohra and the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti later today.
Mehbooba was away meeting families of those killed in action by security forces when Singh arrived here.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), two major representative trade bodies in the Valley, decided not to meet the Home Minister, saying such exercises in the past have been futile.
Meanwhile, curfew was lifted from Bandipora, Baramulla, Budgam and Ganderbal districts and some parts of Srinagar city in view of the improving situation in these areas, a police official said.
The official, however, said restrictions on assembly of four or more people under Section 144 CrPC will continue in the areas where curfew has been lifted. He said curfew remained in force in Anantnag, Kulgam, Kupwara, Pulwama and Shopian districts of the Valley and eight police station areas of the city.
Singh is scheduled to hold meetings with state government officials, political leaders and others during his two-day stay. However, representatives of the two trade bodies, who were to meet him today, decided to boycott him.
Meanwhile, two senior police officers have been transferred from South Kashmir range, which was worst hit by violence following killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Wani.
Senior IPS officer Ghulam Hassan Bhat has been posted as DIG South Kashmir range, replacing Nitish Kumar, a government spokesman said.
He said SSP Anantnag Abdul Jabbar was also transfered and replaced by SSP Traffic (Rural) Zubair.
The KEA, in an open letter to the Home Minister, said while they could understand the urgency for his visit to Kashmir for assessing the situation, "we also can esily determine the futility of this exercise."
In the hard-hitting letter, the trade body accused the Union ministers of showing "arrogance and hostility" to the people of the Valley about whose problems they had "no real knowledge".
"Your predecessors have used similar tactics in almost similar situations and once you have met with some representative bodies you go back and sleep over all the issues confronting the people here and issue statements without addressing the ground realities. Therefore, Singh
we have decided not to meet you," the KEA said in the letter.
It criticised Singh for his statement in Parliament in which he had blamed Pakistan for the disturbance in Kashmir.
"Please seek the cooperation and guidance of the real leaders of people and stakeholders, that includes Pakistan," the KEA said.
Referring to days of violence following Wani's killing in which 45 people have died so far and hundreds injured, it accused the security forces of using "disproportionate force" to quell the protests.
"You chose bullets to kill and pellets to blind us. The volatility of youngsters is beyond your comprehension. We are tolerant but there is a limit to this tolerance. You have been using disproportionate force against unarmed civilians. You take pride in your force but do not have any compassion and understanding," it said.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said it too has decided not to meet Singh during his visit as "no purpose will be served in attending any meeting when the killing of innocent people is unabated and scores of people continue to be injured in the pellet/bullet gun fire."
The MHA release said, on the first day of his visit to Srinagar today, Singh met about 15 delegations including those of Sikh community, Kashmiri Pandits, youths, Tourism and Hospitality industry and entrepreneurs, besides several individuals.
Singh will meet delegations of political parties on Sunday, in addition to central and state security agencies.