ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday expressed dismay over the absence of idols in the Sri Ram and Hanuman temples in the Katas Raj temple complex in Chakwal, and sought an explanation from the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) in this regard.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar also ordered the closure of tubewells used by the Bestway Cement factory, which is believed to be one of the industrial units responsible for the drying up of the Katas Raj pond.

According to Hindu mythology, Katas Raj is the second-most sacred Hindu site and dates back to 600 AD. The temple complex is built around the pond, which finds it origin from Katak Shah, which is Sanskrit for ‘raining eyes’. The pond is believed to have been formed from the tears of Shiva after the loss of his wife, Sati.

The SC bench is conducting a suo motu hearing based on media reports that the Katas Raj pond is drying out due to water consumption by nearby cement factories, which are sucking water through a number of drill bores that have reduced the subsoil water level and the use of subsoil water by domestic users.

Pilgrims bring their own idols to worship at Hanuman, Sri Ram temples, court told

The court was perturbed to learn that two adjacent temples within the premises of the Katas Raj, called Hanuman temple and Sri Ram Mandir, were without any idols, and Hindu pilgrims who visited the holy site had to bring their own idols to perform their rituals.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial was at a loss to understand why the authorities could not protect idols inside the temples.

Advocate Mohammad Ikram Chaudhry, who represents ETPB, assured the court that he would submit an updated report on Wednesday when the court will resume hearing the case.

The court was also unhappy with the state of affairs at the department, and regretted that it had become something to accommodate party loyalists instead of appointing professional individuals. The court was told that Asif Hashmi, the former chairman of the board who had allegedly indulged in the appropriation of funds, was still at large.

The court asked why the interior secretary should not be summoned to explain why a red warrant for his arrest was not issued to deport the former chairman from abroad.

Referring to the cement factories, the court observed that the units had to face the brunt for allegedly damaging the natural environment of the area.

On Tuesday, Salman Aslam Butt, who represents the Gharib Wal cement factory, sought time to present its point of view, while Salman Akram Raja – who will defend the D.G. Cement – was abroad. Bestway Cement still has to engage counsel.

Additional Advocate General Punjab Asma Hamid told the court that a comprehensive report was at the concluding stage and would be submitted before the court soon.

At the last hearing, she had told the court that the water level at the pond had risen to 20 feet, and the provincial government had banned new cement factories from setting up in the area.

The Punjab government also conceded that the aquifer feeding the Katas Raj pond was under severe stress, which has led the pond to dry out because of water consumption by nearby cement factories through a number of drill bores, which have severely reduced the subsoil water level.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2017

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