The Supreme Court on Thursday asked who was responsible for allowing cement factories around the historic Katas Raj Temple to increase production, which has resulted in catastrophic destruction of the historic site.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, who is heading a three-judge bench overseeing a suo motu case which followed media reports that the Katas pond was drying out fast as nearby cement factories sucked up large quantities of groundwater through a number of drilled wells. The wells have severely reduced subsoil water levels and have affected water usage of domestic users in the vicinity of the temple as well.
The CJP asked how a factory operating in the area was permitted to increase its production from 5,000 tonnes to 50,000 tonnes.
"Did the federal government give the permission, or was it the provincial government?" he asked.
He also asked whether trees cut for the construction of cement factories were replaced. "Everything looks fine on paper but the reality seems to be very different," he observed.
Additional Advocate General Punjab Aasma Hamid presented the provincial government's report confirming that the water levels in the pond had reduced.
"The chief minister has imposed a ban on further requests for new factories and the provincial government has filled the pond up to 20 feet," she informed the court. She also said that there was currently no legislation on the usage of subsoil water.
Meanwhile, the provincial secretary of the Mines and Minerals Department told the court that cement factories in the area have been issued notices for increasing their production.
Justice Saqib Nisar said that the court had already imposed restrictions on new factories. "Why does the government always act so late?" he asked.
He said that though the court would not hold any particular entity responsible, the situation was very unfortunate.
He also questioned Siddiqul Farooq's qualification to hold the post of the chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), which is responsible for the upkeep of the temple.
"A trustworthy person should be the chairman of the trust," the court said.
The court also highlighted the significance of the temple. The CJP recalled that Mughal Emperor Babar had likened the area to Kashmir in his memoirs, while Jutsice Umar Atta Bandial added that the area attracts many migratory birds.
The court held that though industry is important for growth, the environment should also be taken care of.
Taking note that nine of 14 tube wells set up by the factories around the temple are still in use, it asked the authorities to take necessary action to ensure improvement in levels of subsoil water.
In a previous hearing, the court had been told that the the pond was drying out because of the massive water requirements of 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 bored wells, as there is no proper water supply in the areas of Katas, Waulah and Choa Saidan Shah city, the court was told. 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.