Thursday, June 8, 2023
 News Details
Temple Protection Bill Reaches Parliament

B L Saraf

Vivek Tankha,Rajya Sabha Member and a Kashmiri Pandit now settled in MP , has introduced a private members’ Bill No XV111 of 2022 in the Rajya Sabha, titled Kashmiri Pandits ( Recourse , Restitution , Rehabilitation And Resettlement ) Bill ,2022 . The Bill is intended to justice to the cause of internally displaced Pandits who have been living as refugees in their own country ,since 1990 . Though not all that the displaced KPs want is covered by the Bill ( Bill No XV111 henceforth ) , yet it provides for many things which are essential to their physical and spiritual existence . The Bill has the object ;
“ to provide for social ,political and economic rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits , protection of their property ,restoration of their cultural heritage ,ensuring their safety and security ,provision of rehabilitation and resettlement package to them and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto .”

Bill No XV111 intends to settle some important issues confronting KPs which call for a detailed comment but paucity of time and space will not permit it here . The matter is left to the other day .Nonetheless , a significant provision emerges out regarding which the entire displaced Kashmiri Hindu community is on one page . The community has been demanding a law for protection of the temples in Kashmir . Therefore , it requires a mention . Chapter V of the Bill has a provision with respect to the Restoration Of Temples And Heritage Sites in Kashmir , and vide Clause 7 Sub Clause (7) provides for setting up of Kashmiri Hindus Shrine Board on the lines of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Board and Shri Amarnath Shrine Board . By desire or pleasant coincidence the Chapter has genesis in what the Supreme Court and some constitutional courts in the country have asked the GOI and state governments to do . L G Manoj Sinha has also been thinking on the same lines
In 2021 the LG Administration ,after realizing that several religious and historical monuments in J &K are “battling for their existence and identity “ issued directions for preparation of Action Plans under “ Scheme for Revival ,Restoration , Preservation and Maintenance of Architecture and Heritage .” Similar directions were issued in respect of “ Scheme for Promotion of Traditional and Cultural Festivals ”.
The phraseology employed echoed sum and substance of aims and objects of the Bill No , 11/ 2009 , introduced in the Legislative Assembly in March 2009 which unfortunately couldn’t pass into a law . The Government emphasized the necessity of the Bill thus ; “ …..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.”

Supreme Court said in WP No 649 /2018 Mrinalni VS U OI dated 08 06 2018 “ 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 .”

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 review
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 .
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.

State High Court also took cognizance of the assault made on these religious places . Orders were passed 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 . But unfortunately they have not been implemented. The Bill is welcome .But more is required.

The Chapter V of the BILL No XV111 is a one clause measure which doesn’t make for a complete law on the subject . No mention is made of how a democratic and transparent management of these temples and shrines could be ensured . However , it an appreciable effort of the respected member Rajya Sabah member , in as much as would lay down the foundation on which ,in future , a well structured state law , covering vital aspects , can be founded on . Apart from that it will give all political parties / persons - ruling or in the opposition - a chance to redeem themselves and come good on their promises made to the displaced community and give KPs a view to see true friends . The timely passage of the Bill XV111 into a law will be a big CB M for the displaced Kashmir Hindus.

(The author is a Former Principal District & Sessions Judge. Feedback- [email protected])

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