ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the federal and Punjab governments to form a special committee of experts to save the fabled prehistoric Hindu temple of Katas Raj, whose pond is fast drying out.

“We live in an Islamic country and it is our duty to protect the rights and holy places of minorities, including those of Hindus,” observed Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, regretting that one of the holiest Hindu temples was not being looked after properly.

The chief justice was heading a three-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken suo motu notice of media reports that the Katas pond was drying out as nearby cement factories sucked up large quantities of groundwater through a number of drill bores. The bores have severely reduced subsoil water levels and have affected water usage of domestic users as well.

There is no life without the two bounties of Allah Almighty, including clean drinking water and clean air, the chief justice said, observing that the court could go to any extent, including reducing the capacity of certain factories or industrial units.

CJ regrets bad state of sacred Hindu site; forms committee to find solution to groundwater problem

But we will not tolerate the enrichment of a few at the cost of the sanctity of temples that belong to the minorities, he said.

“We need a solution for the future, therefore I suggest setting up a committee under the court’s supervision, which should suggest remedial measures to mitigate the damage already done to the temple,” the chief justice observed.

The committee would consist of experts from the federal as well as the provincial governments, Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman Siddiqul Farooq, and local environmentalist Mohammad Safdar Malik.

The latter also handed over certain proposals to the court, highlighting possible remedial measures. Once the committee is formed, the Supreme Court may issue a timeline for the completion of its task.

“This is a job for the legislatures and the executive, but when they do not carry out their responsibilities well, the courts come into play,” the chief justice explained, adding that even though the factories also had a role in the industrial growth of the country, but there should be some sense of proportion.

Such factories or industrial units should be established in places where the lives of ordinary people are not affected and the environmental degradation should be minimal, he warned.

The court also hinted at examining the extent of the pollution, caused by widespread quarrying in the mountains of the Salt Range, which was adversely affecting the health of locals.

The judges maintained that while they were not against development work, quarrying could be done elsewhere in the range, away from settled areas.

The chief justice highlighted the need for a balancing factor and noted that even developed countries had proper corrective measures in place to protect against the ill-effects of environmental degradation.

In its report, the Punjab government conceded that the aquifer feeding the Hindu temple in Katas was under severe stress, which had drastically reduced the water level in its prehistoric pond.

The report claimed the pond was drying out because of the massive water requirements of the nearby cement factories, which were sucking up groundwater through a number of drill bores.

In addition, almost every home in the vicinity is obtaining water from bores, as there is no proper water supply in the areas of Katas, Waulah and Choa Saidan Shah city. The problem has been aggravated by the plantation of water-intensive eucalyptus trees in the region.

Katas Raj is considered the second most sacred shrine of the Hindu religion. Its origin dates back to 600AD, and the temple complex is built around a water pond, which in Hindu mythology was formed by the tears of Shiva, as he wept uncontrollably over the loss of his wife, Sati.

The pond covers an area of two kanals and 15 marlas, with a maximum depth of approximately 20 feet. The pond is a natural spring and like all other springs, sees highs and lows in the water flows linked to seasonal variations.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2017

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