The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday ordered local authorities to ensure the provision of free services at shrines, including parking, use of toilets and shoe-keeping, for which visitors were previously being charged across the province.
The order was issued by LHC Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan while hearing a petition filed by a citizen, Haq Nawaz, last month against the collection of fees from visitors for the use of washrooms, shoe-keeping, and parking in the premises of shrines across Punjab.
The court also sought a report of collection of funds from all shrines within 15 days.
Advocate Azhar Siddique, the petitioner’s counsel, alleged that the Auqaf department was charging “extortion” from people in the name of toilet and shoe-keeping fee. He further claimed that the department then used the funds for the disbursement of salaries among their employees.
The chief justice remarked that the Auqaf department should be stripped of its responsibility of managing shrines if it was unable to fulfil it.
Terming it "incompetence" of the Auqaf department, the chief justice questioned authorities about the legality of stationing a person at washrooms and the main entrance to charge an amount for keeping a pair of shoes in custody.
Justice Khan also inquired from the government counsel on what grounds were people coming for prayers being charged. He observed that the government must dole out charity funds for the maintenance of washrooms used by visitors. “Charging Rs10 to each visitor for use of washroom is tantamount to denying entry to the shrine,” the chief justice remarked.
He cited a practice employed by the management of a shrine in Golra Sharif, saying they do no charge visitors for this purpose at all.
The chief justice added that he had recently been to Iran, where no such charges were sought from visitors at shrines.