B L Saraf
Realizing that several religious and historical monuments in J&K are “battling for their existence and identity” the LG’s Administration has issued directions for preparation of Action Plans under “Scheme for Revival, Restoration, Preservation and Maintenance of Architecture and Heritage.” Similar directions have been issued in respect of ” Scheme for Promotion Of Traditional and Cultural Festivals ” in order to preserve and promote such festivals as are part of composite culture of the UT. The exercise is apparently aimed at preserving religious and the cultural sign posts in Jammu and Kashmir to which the multitude pay obeisance.
Surely, there couldn’t be more appropriate phraseology than is used to describe plight of the religious places in J &K -particularly of those in Kashmir which are revered by Hindus. They are undoubtedly “battling for their existence and identity.” In fact the phraseology employed echoes sum and substance of aims and objects of the Bill No, 11/ 2009 , introduced in the Legislative Assembly in March 2009 which, however, for the reasons well known couldn’t pass into a law and lapsed with the Assembly completing its term . The Government emphasized the necessity of the Bill thus; ” Due to the disturbed conditions in the Kashmir Valley in year 1990 , the majority of the Hindus left the Valley and the Shrines remained unattended. There are complaints that properties of these Shrines have been encroached and most of them are in deteriorated condition . Many associations and bodies of the community have shown concern in this behalf.”
It appears that in this matter administration has heard Supreme Court saying ; ” There is no doubt that proper management of pilgrimage centers of importance is a matter of public interest. These centers are of undoubted religious , social historical and architectural importance representing cultural heritage of the country . Millions of people visit these places not only for tourism but also for seeking inspiration for the righteous values and for their well being . They make huge offerings and donations for advancement of such values .” ( WP No 649/2018 Mrinalni vs UOI dt 08 06 2018 )
Directions were made to Union Home Ministry to collect information with regard to the religious places in the country so that management practices therein can be reviewed.
While unveiling the plan official sources have come out with a significant statement that in J&K each religious and historical monument is embodiment of a unique saga that “takes them beyond the level of just mere architectural or combination of bricks and walls to the spiritual and inner enlightenment levels.” Apart from being inalienable Spiritual centers of the Kashmiri Hindu Community , some of the shrines and temples have immense heritage value and have been mapped by UNESCO – as part of thousand years Kashmir heritage.
For the implementation of the scheme government has constituted an Executive Committee headed by the Chief Secretary and the District Level Coordination – cum – Implementation Committees, headed by the local District Development Commissioner. Refer Government Order no 863 JK ( JAD ) of 2021 dated 8th September ). The Committee has specific terms of reference. It will conduct census and survey of the shrines, temples and other historic monuments and undertake renovations repairs etc. We wish the committee had clear mandate to identify immovable assets of these Shrines and then order their restoration to the Deities, if found encroached up on or illegally alienated in any mode . This could be done in a rather summary manner because no one can ever claim ownership of the properties belonging to a Deity. This is a well settled legal position , recently reiterated by the Supreme Court in a judgment which upheld legality of the MP Land Revenue Code 1959 and dismissed priest’s claim of ownership of the land attached to the temple . Should the need arise the Committee may, in this regard , explore possibility of invoking provisions of The J &K Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection And Restraint On Distress Sales) Act,1997.
What the displaced persons of Kashmir have been saying for the last 35 years ,with reference to their religious places, now, stands admitted by the Government. True, the government’s intervention is required to retrieve the lost and usurped properties of these shrines and for carrying out repairs ,renovations etc . But these religious places need continuous care and management to ensure ” protection and longevity ” which can be provided only by the devotees within the community on permanent basis. Therefore, the management has to be in the hands of a particular community and to ensure that happens in a transparent and democratic manner a statutory safeguard is required . As it is for management of Mosques and Gurdhwaras in J &K.
Whereas one may welcome the development but fingers have to be crossed about efficacy of the Committee. In 2001 the J K government constituted Mandhir Prabhandhak Committee for Kashmir Province – vide Govt Order GAD 1699 of 2001 Dated 20 .12 It comprised, among others ,of Divisional Commissioner and Inspector General of Police Kashmir Division, with the mandate ” the Committee shall assess the ground position of the Temples in the Valley and work for their maintenance and up- keep of the same .” Practice, however, has shown that the Committee couldn’t yield the desired results for want of a statutory support. That makes us apprehensive about the outcome of the new Committee also though not in detraction of pious intentions of the government.
Even direction of State High Court couldn’t stop the assault on these religious places. Orders passed by the High Court in Writ Petition OWP 785 / 2008 titled Ghulam Nabi Khan v/s State of J&K, for protection of Mandir Properties and banning their sale in the Valley, are followed more in breach than in observance. Therefore, law alone, as demanded by the displaced community, will take care of Shrines and temples in Kashmir and ensure their democratic and transparent management.
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)
B L Saraf