Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday regretted the government's inability to safeguard one of the Hindu community's most well-known places of worship, Chakwal's Katas Raj temple, and ordered that a committee be set up to probe the issue.
The CJP made the remarks during the hearing of a suo motu case taken up by the Supreme Court (SC) on the basis of media reports that the Katas Raj temple complex pond was drying up because cement factories nearby were drawing a large amount of water through a number of sub-soil wells, severely reducing the water table in the general area.
In addition, almost every home in Katas Waulah and Choa Saidan Shah, two settlements near the temple, draws water through bored wells due to the absence of a proper water supply network. The unchecked plantation of eucalyptus saplings in the region has compounded the problem, the apex court was told.
The Punjab government and a district coordination officer submitted reports on the matter in court today, and the additional advocate general made important disclosures about a cement factory operating in the area, saying its water usage is greater than the entire population of the city of Chakwal.
"This temple is not just a place of cultural significance for the Hindu community, but also a part of our national heritage," the CJP observed.
"I want a solution to this problem."
The CJP subsequently ordered the advocate general Punjab to establish a high-level committee to probe the matter and decided to issue a notice to the cement factory.
"If necessary, we will even summon all four chief secretaries and the prime minister's principal secretary," he said, adding that experts would need to be taken on board.
Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf, who was earlier absent from court, arrived after a short break in the hearing following CJP Nisar's dissatisfaction over his absence.
Once Ausaf arrived, the CJP stressed the importance of protecting the rights of minority communities.
Ausaf was directed to form a committee on the matter and become an assistant to its members. The CJP also suggested that an ordinary citizen of Chakwal, retired Gen Safdar, who often raises his voice about the issue, be included in the committee.
"Our goal is to find a solution to the matter of how water can be provided," CJP Nisar said. "If we need to close down 10 tubewells or halt the water consumption of the factories, we will do it."
The chief justice lamented that the cement factories appeared to have cut away more than half the mountains in the area.
He stressed that the court was not against the setting up of factories, "but they should be located in places that do not cause inconvenience to ordinary citizens".
"It is unacceptable to live without access to clean water or air," the CJP asserted.
The case was adjourned till next Thursday.
'Aquifier feeding pond severely stressed'
During a hearing of the case earlier this week, the Punjab government had conceded in court that an aquifer feeding the pond at the Katas Raj temple complex is under stress and this has caused a drastic fall in the water level.
A report placed before the court in compliance with the suo motu notice on the drying up of the fabled pond attributed the depletion of water to a number of factors.
The report explained that the Katas Raj temple lies in the mineral-rich Salt Range, which has four cement plants. One of these is just two kilometres from the historic site. Since there is no major source of water in the vicinity, the factories rely on sub-soil water to meet their needs.
Although the plant operates on “dry process”, which does not consume water, the facility needs water nevertheless for its cooling towers and to meet the daily needs of its employees, the report said.
And to meet its requirement, the factory operates 14 tube-wells that are allowed to extract 148 cubic metres of water per hour.
The report also highlighted that the Chakwal administration, taking a serious view of environmental hazards caused by industrial activity, ordered closure of three of the 14 tube-wells in order to reduce stress on the aquifer. Later two more tube-wells were made dysfunctional due to other reasons. At present only nine tube-wells of the cement factory are working, the report added.
Besides the cement factories, the area is known for a number of coal mine operations. Since this activity involves massive digging of the earth for coal extraction, the site becomes exposed to torrents of water gushing out from the earth capillaries.
The name of the Katas Raj temple complex is a derivative of Kataksha, a Sanskrit word meaning “tearful eyes”.
According to legend, the pond was formed after lord Shiva wept uncontrollably upon the death of Sati, his wife.
The pond occupies an area of two kanals and 15 marlas, with a maximum depth of 20 feet.