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The sacred pond of Katas Raj. --Photo by Dawn

CHAKWAL, April 21: At a time when the Hindu community in the country is crying over ‘conversion and forced-marriages’, they have been inflicted by another misery: the sacred pond at Katas Raj here is drying up because its water is being supplied to the nearby towns, Dawn has learnt.

A cement factory near Katas Temples has installed tubewells in the area which have reduced the water level in the pond.

The water from the pond is being supplied to Choa Syedan Shah and Waula village as the Punjab government could not provide any alternative facility to the residents of the area.

The water supply to Choa Syedan Shah was sanctioned before partition on the condition that the water in the pond would be maintained to a certain level. Till 2007, there was no shortage of water in the pond. As Chakwal saw an industrial development recently, three cement factories were developed in tehsil Choa Syedan Shah.

The cement factory near Katas Temples Complex is posing a threat to the pond. Sources told Dawn that the administration of the factory had pledged that it would arrange water for the factory from the Jhelum River but later it installed many tubewells near the temples. The massive use of water in the factory has not only harmed the pond but also the nearby villages are also facing severe water shortage. The residents of Waula, a village situated at the back of the factory, were left with no other option but to get water from the pond.  Currently, two water pumps are installed at both sides of the pond: one for Choa Syedan Shah and the other for Waula village.

“The water in our village has disappeared due to the cement factory,” says Fazal Elahi, an attendant of the water pumps and a resident of Waula village. He said a water supply scheme had been approved by the Punjab government for the village but work on it could not be started yet. The villagers had protested many times against the unwarranted water use by the factory but to no avail.

When contacted, the deputy administration officer of the cement factory said the tubewells had nothing to do with the shortage of water in the pond.

On the other hand, work on the water supply scheme approved for Choa Syedan Shah is still to be initiated as the departments concerned are doing nothing except blaming one another for the delay.

According to the Hindu mythology, the holy pond came into existence as Lord Shiva wept over the demise of his beloved wife Sati.

Archaeological department of Punjab has also closed its eyes to the pond while the district administration is of the view that it has nothing to do with the affairs of the temple as it is the responsibility of the archaeology department and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). “We have nothing to do with the affairs of Katas Raj Temples and the pond,” said Assistant Commissioner of Choa Syedan Shah Abdul Majid. He said the district administration had provided utmost support to the Hindu Yatrees when they visited the temples.

When contacted, Director General Punjab Archaeology Department Haroon Ahmad Khan also came up with the same version. “Archaeology department has nothing to do with the pond,” he said. Tehsil Municipal Officer (TMO) Raja Ahmad Farooq said they did not have any alternative but to get water from the pond for Choa Syedan Shah and Waula village.

“The Public Health Department has got funds to provide water supply but it has done nothing,” he stated.

Subdivisional officer of the Public Health Department Ramzan Ahmad said efforts were underway to arrange water supply to Choa Syedan Shah. “Work on the water supply scheme is going on and it will be completed very soon,” he claimed.

Unfortunately, not only the sacred pond has become a victim of officials’ apathy but the ancient temples are also crumbling.

Talking to Dawn on phone from Karachi, President of Pakistan Hindu Council Dr Ramesh Kumar expressed concern over the plight of Katas Temples Complex. “The Punjab government should take immediate steps to preserve Katas Temples and the pond,” he added. He said the chairman of ETPB and attendants of all the temples should be from the Hindu community, as they could properly protect their religious sites.