Monday, January 28, 2008

J&K temples for sale-"The Statesman "

Statesman News ServiceJAMMU, Jan. 27:
After 18 years of plunder and damage to ancient Hindu temples in the state, the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to investigate the illegal sale of properties of various Hindu temples in Kashmir. Militancy, which started in the state in the early 1990s, led to more than 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits fleeing Kashmir Valley. More than 600 of the temples were desecrated by militants. In the past few years, however, the Hindu temple trusts and a few individuals associated with the temples' functioning, in connivance with the land mafia and politicians, have allegedly been selling temple land and property.There are ways to dispose off such properties which include leasing them out or giving the power of attorney. But all this would come to a halt as the government has decided to ban the sale of temple properties in Kashmir. “We have taken note of the concern expressed by the legislators about the sale of property of Hindu shrines by their management and will probe the disposal of such properties,” state revenue minister Mr Aijaz Ahmad Khan said, adding that the government has issued instructions to the field staff of the revenue department not to issue any revenue extract for land belonging to temples, ashrams and trusts without orders from the competent authority. For the past few years, Kashmiri Pandits had been demanding that the government declare the sale and purchase of temple properties as illegal. Such Kashmiri Pandit organisations as the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti have written to the Prime Minister, citing contentious lease details of a few sold temple properties. The All Pandits Migrants Coordination Committee, over the years, gathered proof of temple lands being sold. Last year, it circulated a CD which showed evidence of the encroachment in Anantnag, home to the former chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Hindus’ crematoriums and children's burial grounds at Sagam, Kokernag, are said to have been used for a public health centre and a forest checkpost. The land and properties of temples such as the Ramji Temple in Srinagar which is worth crores of rupees, is being sold or leased out, allegedly on management's instructions. “As such temple trusts have not had elections for the last 17 years, caretakers and outsiders have been controlling temple assets, worth crores of rupees, and are now selling or leasing them out,” said KPSS president Mr Sanjay Tickoo, adding that the government would check such moves. “But there is a strong and influential land mafia operating in Kashmir which wants to grab Kashmiri Pandits' temples properties,” said Mr Vinod Pandita, chairman, APMCC, adding that the properties of Baba Dharam Das temple in Barbarshah have been sold dishonestly.The Vaital Bharva shrine at Motiyar Rainawari Srinagar has been ransacked and its dharamshala, occupied by relatives of the local MLA. Even the Jammu and Kashmir Dharmarth Trust headed by Dr Karan Singh has been selling the land of Hindus at Pratepeshwar Temple, Kohnikon and Barbarshah. The Prayag Temple at Shadipora, Srinagar, too, testifies to plunder and encroachment, he alleged. The J&K government said it has received two cases of encroachment of temple lands and these would be probed.