B L Saraf
Another shining Star would soon be added to the soul lifting Spiritual Constellation of Jammu. In what could be a decision of far reaching significance, the Administrative Council chaired by LG, Manoj Sinha , has approved the proposal to allot 496 kanals of land, in Jammu, to the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams (TTD) for “building of Temple and its allied infrastructures, pilgrim amenities complex, Vedpatahshala and Spiritual / Meditation Centers.” Undoubtedly, this is a welcome development for myriad reasons: not only for the people in Jammu of particular faith but also for all believers , irrespective of the creed and color. The Administrative Council, while approving the proposal, said that the move was aimed at exploiting to the full the tourism potential of Jammu, besides enhancing economic opportunities.
The TTD board has been established under TTD Act, 1932 and is presently governed by Chapter 1V of Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Endowments Act 1987. It is a charitable organization of world repute, with proven record of activities in the field of spiritual, cultural, social and educational sphere.
The statics across the country reveal that the religious places managed under a Statutory architecture are well kept, have attracted large number of devotees and huge offerings which have immensely contributed to the welfare of populace, besides catering to the spiritual appetite of the devotees. Their management is transparent and accountable.TTD Trust is one shining example of it . In J &K ,Shri Mata Vaishnov Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) doesn’t lag behind in this regard .Ever since it came into the existence, in 1986, SMVDSB has not only served the Deity well , to the satisfaction of the devotees, but also managed its affairs in a transparent manner, utilized offerings for providing education and health services to the people at large, besides contributing hugely to the economic sphere of both the UTs – J &K and Ladakh.
SMVDSB runs a super specialty hospital in Katra, has established a University which offers post graduate courses in many streams, finances a Nursing training institute and has come up with a big sports complex in Katra. It has contributed immensely to the economic sphere of the area around and is engaged in so many charitable causes, making it abundantly clear that the offerings are utilized for the benefit of the general public – to a great pleasure of the Deity and entire satisfaction of the devotees.
We wish same could be said of the management of Temples and Shrines run privately –some as family assets. Their management is opaque and many face charges of mismanagement. So much so that on occasions the Apex Court had to intervene to stem the rot. For the sake of brevity, we refer here to one such case.The Supreme Court , while hearing management and other related matters of Lord Jagannath Temple Puri – in Orissa, some years back , issued directions to ensure protection of “ the sanctity and ethos “ of this highly revered religious place. Attention of the Court was drawn to the gross mismanagement of huge offerings made to the Temple by the devotees and lack of proper facilities for the visitors. The directions issued have far-reaching consequences and apply, uniformly, to all religious places in the country.
Apex Court put the matter in a Constitutional matrix and observed “The issues raised involve enforcement of fundamental right under Article 25 and Directive Principles under Article 38, 49 and 51 A ( f ) and (g) of the Constitution of India and other rights.” It went further to examine the issue in a broader perspective and expressed serious concern on the health of shrines, spread across the country . It touched soul of the matter. It is no secret that some religious places of all faiths in J&K face serious charges of mismanagement and encroachment of their properties.
In Kashmir the condition of most of the religious places is bad . Temples and Shrines of Hindus in Valley are the worst targets. The government has acknowledged it in clear terms, at various occasions. There are allegations that offerings and donations made to these shrines are not properly accounted for by the so -called trustees and the managers. Devotees have been craving for a statutory management of these religious places. There, however , has been no response from the quarters concerned, so far.
We know, for sure, the L.G has Kashmir as much in his heart as he has Jammu. Like Jammu, the Valley’s ambience is dotted with highly revered religious places of all the faiths . Thousands of devotees pay obeisance in search of peace and salvation. They have huge potential to attract enormous offerings -as in fact they do- and possess capacity to undertake good work as is being done by TTD and SMVDSB. But due to lack of transparent management the offerings are not put to the good use by the so-called managers. We hope the LG would take cognizance of the issues raised by the Apex Court as they relate to the management of religious places in J&K , as well and take appropriate steps to remove the distress of the devotees : “protect sanctity and ethos “of these places of culture and spirituality.We also hope that Government will, also, consider the genuine demand of a transparent and accountable management of the religious places, guaranteed by a statute, where ever it is found missing.
The devotees of Temples in Kashmir would, particularly ,like the LG to appreciate that Apex Court has given expression to what millions of people feel on the issue and act in Kashmir as desired . The Court must be heard carefully when it says “There is no doubt that proper management of pilgrimage centers of great importance is a matter of public interest. These centers are of undoubted religious, social historical and architectural importance, representing cultural heritage of our country. Millions of people visit these centers not only for tourism but also for seeking inspiration for the righteous values and of their well being. They also make huge offerings and donations for advancement of such values .” Very true of Temples and Shrines in Kashmir.
It is worth a recall what former CM Miss Mehbooba once told the administrators of Muslim shrines that Wakaf Board is a community institution and expected it to be of a great help to the community. Hindus In Kashmir visualize same role for the prospective Statutory Board. So they demand a law for creation of such a Board to act as community institution and prove itself as SMVDSB has done in the field of public service .
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)
B L Saraf