LAHORE, May 27: In violation of its own scheme for management and disposal of urban evacuee properties, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (EPTB) has allowed a jeweller to demolish a Hindu temple and construct a commercial building in its place at Wachhowali in Rang Mahal.
The EPTB Scheme for Management and Disposal of Urban Evacuee Trust Properties, 1977, categorically prohibits the sale or demolition of an evacuee trust property which is ‘part of appurtenance to a shrine, a religious place or a building of historical or architectural importance’.
Wachhowali, a narrow commercial and residential lane reached through Sooha Bazar and Chhatta Bazaar, is to Lahore what Katas is to Pakistan because of the presence of several Hindu temples, which are managed and maintained by the EPTB.
Each temple is rented out by the EPTB to several tenants for residential as well as commercial purposes. None of the temples located in Wachhowali and maintained by the EPTB is in good shape. However, this is for the first time since its establishment that the board has allowed demolition of a worship place and approved the construction of a commercial building in its place.
The Krishna Mandir, where the influential jeweller has been allowed to build a commercial plaza, was probably the only Hindu temple which still had remnants of a place of worship. This no longer is the case because the entire building, except a small portion facing the Wachhowali lane, has already been brought down by the developer.
One of the 16 former tenants of the temple told Dawn last week that the board had approved the demolition of the structure and the construction of a commercial building in its place about a year or more ago. “We were evicted from the temple some six months back,” he said. The tenants protested against the decision, but later accepted it, fearing the “use of muscle” by the developer.
When a Dawn photographer visited the place early this week to take pictures of whatever was left of the temple, he was immediately surrounded by the henchmen of the developer. “Leave this place,” they told him. “This is private property. We have invested millions of rupees. It has nothing to do with the EPTB. There was no Hindu temple here. If you are looking for a temple, go look a little farther,” they told him when he insisted on taking a picture of the remnants of the temple.
It is not yet clear as to under which law or rule the EPTB has sold the property and approved the demolition of the temple. When contacted on telephone for comments, the EPTB deputy administrator-I, Lahore, Wahab Gull refused to talk on the issue, saying: “If you want to talk about the temple, call the administrator.”
The EPTB administrator Javed Bashir, however, could not be contacted despite repeated attempts as, his staff said, he was out of the office. Nor did he return the call.
It is pertinent to mention that more than a decade ago, the main, wooden gate of the temple was stolen. However, a well-known socialite returned the door after the matter was raised in newspapers. The door is said to be rotting in one of the offices of the EPTB.
It may also be recalled that an 11-marla evacuee trust property inside Yakki Gate has been encroached upon by a developer and a market built on the premises in connivance with the officials of the board.