Author: Saadut
•8:51 PM

During the Dogra rule, about two centuries ago, many temple properties were established in Kashmir, often at prime locations. When majority of the Kashmiri Pandits migrated out of Kashmir during the onset of conflict in the early 1990’s, these temple properties were often left without any custodians or caretakers. Soon after many Mahants (Hindu priests) from outside the Valley started taking over the control of these properties. Many of these properties were also occupied by security forces while some of other properties (especially in non prime locations) were left to ruins.

Recently a news channel reported about the temple land scam in Kashmir, where large properties of these temple trusts were being sold off by a leading Jammu businessman who claimed to head the ‘Sanathan Dharam Pratap Sabha’ trust. This scam had been executed with the active participation of temple priests and revenue officials. Strangely all such land transfers have taken place in spite of ‘The Jammu and Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (preservation, protection and restraint on distress sales)’ Act firmly in place, which is aimed at prevention of distress sale of property (for Kashmiri Pandits).

As per reports, in one case a self styled ‘Mahant’ Ramdasji Maharaj (a Nepalese citizen) had many years ago taken over the ‘Dharamdas Koul Temple’ at Barbarshah Srinagar. The Mahant had subsequently conspired with two Delhi based businessmen and fraudulently leased out temple land worth about 320 million rupees.

Sanjay Tikoo, convenor of KPSS (Kashmiri Pandit Sangarash Samiti) claims to have access to documents about such land illegal transfers, and has taken many such fraudulent transfers to court.

In response to the expose of this ‘temple scam’ in Kashmir, the president of Shree Baba Dharam Dass Ram Jeevan Dass Trust, Mahant Subhash Shah, denied any  truth in the ‘temple land grabbing scam’, instead claiming that  Kashmiri Pandits were shedding crocodile tears “In a clarification Mahant said that all have no truth into it and all have been manipulated and having personal interests of Kashmiri Pandits who moved out of valley without least bothering for the temples for which they are now shedding their crocodile tears. “ (State Observer 24th March 2012).   

In January, this year the Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued directions to stop the transfer of temple property to private parties in Kashmir valley. Justice Sunil Hali directed the government to retrieve temple property leased out or sold by ‘Mahants’ and to ensure protection  of Mandir properties from encroachments, besides taking  custody  of the Mandir properties  regarding which  no transfer has been effected.

Many Kashmiri Pandits have been voicing support for the ‘J&K Shrine and Religious Places of Kashmiri Pandits Bill’ which would be on the lines of the Muslim Wakf Board and Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee in Jammu and Kashmir. They believe such a bill is necessary to protect and develop Hindu religious places in Kashmir, and get them under the control of Kashmiri Pandits. While creation of Hindu Shrines and Temple body on the lines of the Waqf board may ensure better upkeep of these Pandit religious places, but will such a bill really stop encroachments and grabbing of religious property?

Religion no bar for loot

Such wanton loot and encroachment of property belonging to religious bodies is not limited to Temples only.
As per reports, army and BSF are known to have illegally occupied about 2500 kanals of Muslim Auqaf property in the state since 1947, out of which almost 1200 kanals are in Jammu alone and in most cases no compensation or rent has been paid. In fact the unauthorized occupation of Waqf land reached such proportions that the state government was forced to take up this matter with the defense ministry. The Minister of State for Haj and Auqaf J&K on December 12, 2011 wrote to the Indian Defense Minster "I would like to convey that a huge chunk of Waqf land is under unauthorized occupation of Defense Forces (Army/BSF). This land has been under occupation for years together now. But instead of utilizing this land for various purposes, no rent is being paid to the Auqaf department which is injustice and legally not tenable. Though the local Army authorities have been approached in this regard, yet no cognizable/concrete response has been received from them till date." (RK 12th February 2012)

Large properties belonging to the Waqf Auqaf Islamia (Custodian body of Muslim religious properties) Jammu have been encroached by both private land mafia and state departments, including the armed forces. Sadly even graveyards have not been spared this grab, 1553 kanals of about 58 graveyards in and around Jammu have been illegally encroached. In one particular case in Rehari (in Jammu City), a big chunk of the Waqf graveyard, about 76 kanals have been illegally allotted by the Custodian Department to its employees. Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has constructed urinals on 15 marlas of the graveyard and almost 34 kanal and 10 marlas are under the illegal occupation of Army. Two and half kanals of the graveyard land in the same place have been occupied by locals, being used as cattle sheds by them. Ironically this encroachment continues in-spite of court decree ruling in favor of the Waqf trust, and this location being in close vicinity from the seat of governance, the Civil secretariat. In yet another case, 49 kanals and 5 marlas of Waqf graveyard land in Thalori have been illegally encroached by locals. (GK 28th April 2011)

In repose to a RTI query made last December to Auqaf, Jammu, it was found that the trust had lost thousands of kanals of property to illegal occupation in Jammu and the list of encroachers included private players, government departments and armed forces. In his reply to the RTI query, the administrator of Auqaf Islamia Jammu had some stunning facts to disclose;

Almost 2920 kanals of Auqaf land in Jammu had been grabbed and encroached upon. Various state government departments had encroached upon 706 kanals and 48 marlas. State custodian department has unauthorizedly allotted 200 kanals of Auqaf land (including graveyards) to people. The list of departments that have encroached Auqaf property included PWD, irrigation department, health department, rural development department, education department and sericulture department. Army and police had encroached upon 207 kanals and 14 marlas while locals had grabbed 2006 kanals and 91 marlas of Muslim Wakf and graveyard land. (SO 13th March, 2012).

Most of the Auqaf property encroached and embezzled is located in prime locations of Jammu city, on which huge illegal properties have come up. Such brazen encroachments would not have not have happened without the knowledge of political and bureaucratic setup. 

Clearly having a Waqf body in place was no guarantee to stop illegal encroachments and loot of religious property. While in the case of Temple property at Srinagar, the illegal occupation and transfer has been happening with the connivance of Temple priests, land mafia and revenue officials ; ironically in the case of Waqf, most Muslim trust properties have been encroached upon by the state departments, security forces and land mafia.

While the state can blame the ‘land mafia – priests – revenue officials’ nexus in the Temple land loot in Kashmir, whom will it blame for the encroachment of thousands of kanals of Waqf (Auqaf) property in the state?





1st March, 2012




Legend

1.  1. As per govt data about 57287 kanals of evacuee (custodian) land is under occupation of security forces in Kashmir. This is apart from the illegally occupied Auqaf land.

2.  2. In a recent incident Kashmiri Pandits had tweeted to CM Omar about illegal felling of trees in Rainwari Mandir after which CM had ordered for immediate action. However this uniformity in action, ‘sarvv dharma samaan’ principle seems to be lost in case of state encroached Auqaf properties.


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