SC stays demolition activity at Dharam Shala in Karachi

Published June 13, 2021
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed while heading a three-judge bench also issued notice to Sindh’s secretary for heritage to furnish a comprehensive report about the building. — Online/File
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed while heading a three-judge bench also issued notice to Sindh’s secretary for heritage to furnish a comprehensive report about the building. — Online/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has stayed all kinds of demolition activity at a 716-square-yard Dharam Shala — a centre for members of the Hindu community — and ordered the Karachi commissioner to take over the possession of its land.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed while heading a three-judge bench also issued notice to Sindh’s secretary for heritage to furnish a comprehensive report about the building.

The directives were issued during the hearing of a tragic incident of vandalising and burning of a Samadhi (shrine) of a Hindu Saint in Teri, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The apex court had initiated the case on vandalising and torching of the Samadhi and had ordered chief secretary and inspector general of KP as well as Dr Shoaib Suddle — the one-man commission on minority rights — to visit the site and submit a comprehensive report to the court.

Orders disbursement of Rs14.99m to the commission on minority rights

On Dec 30 last year, more 1,000 people led by some local elders of a religious party had held a protest and demanded the removal of the Hindu temple. After making speeches they had attacked the temple.

During the hearing on June 11, patron of Pakistan Hindu Council Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani invited the attention of the Supreme Court towards the building that, according to him, was being demolished to make way for construction of a commercial plaza.

Dr Vankwani said the property in question is located at the Napier Quarters, in Saddar Town, Karachi, and measures about 716 square yards and is a Dharam Shala.

He had told the Supreme Court during the hearing that the property was leased out by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to some private persons who now are in the process of demolishing the Dharam Shala to build a new building.

Meanwhile, the ETPB chairman told the Supreme Court that the property was leased out to the private persons after the Sindh High Court (SHC) had allowed this.

In a three-page order, the CJP observed that the SHC order was not before the Supreme Court but the photographs provided by Dr Vankwani apparently showed that the building of the Dharam Shala was constructed in 1932, which can also be read from the marble slab affixed on the building and therefore must be a protected heritage building.

The notice which was issued to the Sindh secretary for heritage also required not only to furnish the report about the nature of the building but also to ensure that no demolition activity of the building will be conducted by anyone.

The Karachi commissioner will take over the possession of the building as well as the land and will also restrict entrance into it by any individual.

Likewise, the demolition material in case of carrying out the process of removing the infrastructure of the building will also not be allowed. The Karachi commissioner is also required to report back to the Supreme Court about the implementation of its order. The SC registrar will also ensure that the order is communicated to the commissioner positively on June 11.

Meanwhile, the commission on minority rights has sought allocation of more funds as Rs7 million allocated to it through an order issued by the court on Feb 19, 2020, had already been spent, rather some liabilities had been accrued. In its application, the commission had prayed for granting Rs14.994m for clearance of outstanding liabilities and also for allocation of budget for 2021-22.

In response, the court issued notices to the ministry of religious affairs and interfaith harmony as well as Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan. The court ordered disbursement of Rs14.994m to the commission and said for the allocation of new budget a proper response be filed by the religious affairs.

The apex court was also told that the very commission created by the religious affairs ministry was not in accordance with law for the reasons that it has been constituted through an executive order and no law to support such a commission has been passed.

The court asked the religious affairs ministry to come out with a detailed proposal regarding ensuring that the commission be constituted with proper support of law.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2021

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