A view of the Sindh High Court building. — Photo by Reuters

KARACHI, Sept 14: The Sindh High Court on Friday restrained the Karachi Port Trust and other respondents from demolishing the structure of Shri Laxmi Narayan Mandir, a Hindu temple believed to have been constructed about 200 years ago at the Native Jetty Bridge.

A division bench headed by Chief Justice Mushir Alam also appointed a Nazir of the court for inspection of the temple and directed him to submit his report after ascertaining the factual position of demolition and construction activity at the site within seven days.

The directions came on a constitutional petition filed by Kailash Wishram, a resident of the residential quarters on the temple premises, who impleaded the secretary of ports and shipping ministry, the chairman of the KPT, the SHO of the Jackson police station and a private  company that ran a food court under the Jinnah Bridge as respondents.

The petitioner represented by Advocate Zain A. Jatoi submitted that he was a practising Hindu of a caste that was not given equal status by other members of the Hindu community.

He said that the Narayan Mandir was constructed much before the partition of the subcontinent and for a long time Hindus performed their religious rituals at the temple where access to seawater was one of the essential things to perform worship.

According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, the temple was constructed about 200 years ago and the festival of Raksha Bandhan (Nariyal Puja), Ganesh Chaturthi, ie birthday of Shri Ganesh Deva, and every new moon night is celebrated there.

It is a sacred place for performing death rituals, funerals and other religious rituals at the sea.

The petitioner’s counsel submitted that the private company, an endeavour in collaboration with the KPT, had started some construction work blocking the access to the seawater from the temple. He said the construction would threaten their place of worship and so also the right of the minority community at large.

Responding to a court query, the petitioner submitted that the construction was being raised at the behest of Mukesh Chawala, provincial minister of excise and taxation and member of the Hindu Panchayat.

The petitioner was directed by the bench to include the name of the MPA in the list of the respondents.

The court ordered that the temple, its staircase, boundary wall and corridors originally constructed may not be demolished.

The bench directed its office to place the matter before a bench hearing the matter of construction and property and adjourned the hearing for 10 days.

Factory fire case

A division bench headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar directed the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE), the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, the labour department, the chief controller of buildings, the ministry of industries and others to submit detailed reports pertaining to essential pre-requisites for safety and security in public-use buildings in the wake of the Baldia factory fire incident.

The court was seized with the petition of Agha Syed Atta-u-Allah Shah, chairman of the Raah-e-Raast Trust, who also sought a detailed inquiry report in respect of the garment factory.

The petitioner submitted in the petition that due to criminal negligence of the civic agencies the public-use buildings were devoid of safety, security and lifesaving measures and thus tragic incidents of fire frequently cause deaths of innocent people due to non-availability of emergency exit-doors, emergency stairs, firefighting arrangements in the multi-storey commercial, public, industrial and education buildings.

He submitted that the garment factory was gutted after a fire broke out in the factory resulting in a situation in which workers present inside the factory could not be rescued and they died due to non-availability of emergency exit doors and stairs and lack of proper rescue operation by the fire brigade department.

He prayed to the court to direct the civic agencies, including the KMC and SITE, to furnish a list of all public-use buildings, including factories, educational institutions, multi-storey residential and commercial buildings where adequate arrangements for emergency exit, fire alarms, etc, were not in place and direction be given to authorities for fulfilling the requisite safety measures in these buildings without any delay.

The court observed that all answering respondents shall submit their comments in respect of their duties and functions with regard to safety and security and in respect of lifesaving efforts and measures and under what law they were obliged and competent to carry out and enforce such provisions.

The court ordered that reports shall clearly and distinctly reveal as to what extent such obligations had been fulfilled and should explain reasons for non-fulfilment of all such measures, which have not yet been fulfilled or complied with.

Notices have been issued to the Pakistan Labour Federation, the Pakistan Medical Association, the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, the Institute of Architects and Engineers as well as Abdul Rehman and Faisal Siddiqui advocates to assisting the court on instant issue and adjourned the hearing till October 10.