Jammu, Apr 7: J&K government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to “probe into illegal lease of temple properties in valley, nexus in temple properties being used.”
Initiating the investigation process, the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir has directed the Deputy Commissioners (DCs) of all ten districts of Kashmir to ascertain “such instances” in their respective districts and take “appropriate necessary action under rules."
Divisional Commissioner’s office has also instructed the DCs of Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopan, Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara to “furnish the updated inventory of religious minority properties” to it with in week's time.
The SIT and a renewed set of instructions (by Div Com's office) followed a complaint and application filed by the chairman of JK Peace Forum Satish Mahaldar to the offices of Home Minister and the Lieutenant Governor, J&K last year.
This (Mahaldar's application/complaint) has found a reference in the communique of the Divisional Commissioner's office.
“On May 20, 2022, I submitted the complaint and application to the offices of Home Minister and the Lieutenant Governor J&K flagging this issue (illegal sale, lease of temple properties). On March 5, 2023, the LG’s Office directed the letter to the Div Com’s office. Following it, the SIT was constituted when the order was issued by the Div Com's office i.e., on April 4, 2023. The SIT, being headed by the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, has the Deputy Commissioners of all ten districts as its members besides the monitoring body of the Div Com office under the supervision of the (Reference) Monitoring Cell of the LG’s office,” Mahaldar told Greater Kashmir.
“I'm directed to enclose herewith a copy of communication along with its enclosures bearing O.M. no. GAD-RMC/256/2022-LGRMC-GAD dated May 20, 2022 received from Lieutenant Governor's Secretariat References Monitoring Cell, Jammu and Kashmir with the request to ascertain any such instances in your district and take appropriate necessary action under rules with intimation to this office,” read the communique (Div Com/Mig-121/7150795/46-57) by Aadil Fareed, Assistant Commissioner (C) with Divisional Commissioner Kashmir addressed to the DCs of ten districts of Kashmir.
“Besides, furnish the updated inventory of Religious Minority Properties (Temple, Gurudwara, Others) to this office within (a) week's time positively,” the communique added.
“We are happy that the SIT has been constituted. We extend our heartfelt gratitude that on the basis of evidence and subsequent request by JK Peace Forum, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has ordered SIT probe into the illegal lease of temple properties in Kashmir and the nexus in the said properties for illegal use. We're hopeful that justice will prevail following the investigation by SIT. If they require more evidence, we will definitely come forward to assist with all kinds of evidence(s) at our disposal. We will patiently wait for its (SIT’s) outcome,” Mahaldar said, while speaking to Greater Kashmir over phone, with regard to this development.
WHO DID WHAT?
Reiterating and sharing details, which he circulated in the form of an official press release as well, Mahaldar alleged that in the “absence of Kashmiri Pandit community in the valley, a few selective people in connivance with the J&K government officials operated defunct Temple Trusts between 1989 till 2022 and sold out or leased out temple properties.”
“We are surprised how non-resident Kashmiri migrants are allowed to sell temple properties when the respective districts’ Deputy Commissioners (representing J&K government) are the custodians of all migrant properties. The J&K government in the past over 30 years, so far, has been unable to retrieve the sold-over temple properties despite ‘The Jammu and Kashmir Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint on Distress Sales) Act, 1997, being in place. Previous J&K governments have not been able to take any action against these defunct Trusts or Societies,” he rued.
In his complaint, he had enlisted the government departments as well among offenders. “Nearly 25 kanals of temple land at Kohni-Khan, Dalgate, Srinagar, under custody of the Deputy Commissioner office, had been sold out illegally and houses constructed. Similarly, the shrine at Gundo Nowroze, Anantnag, has been illegally occupied by the Education Department. The Shiv temple on the premises of the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution office, Srinagar, has been encroached upon with a shop constructed near the gate,” he alleged, quoting, what he claimed, “documentary evidence.”
Mentioning the details of encroached temple properties, which, according to him, “found mention in his complaint to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the LG office”, Mahaldar told Greater Kashmir, “Durga Nag temple land was leased and rented out to more than 170 tenants; 17 kanals of Bisham Ber Dass temple at Barbershah, just 500-700 meters from Lal Chowk were sold illegally and a hotel was coming up on the land. Similarly a small temple opposite Gurdwara, Lal Chowk has been converted to a Dhaba; a school has been constructed illegally on Hari Parbat land besides Ram ji temple Barbarshah too has been encroached.”
JK Peace Forum chairman alleged that during the last 33 years no successive governments had taken “any initiative to protect temple properties of minorities of Kashmir.” “Despite repeated court orders, temple properties have been given on lease by the respective managements illegally for personal favours. We are thankful that the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has initiated the SIT probe,” he said.
WHAT JK PEACE FORUM DEMANDED IN ITS PETITION
Mahaldar mentioned in the petition, the JK Peace Forum had demanded that the government officials, who “in connivance with a selective group of people operated defunct Temple Trusts during 1989-2022 and sold out or leased out temple properties in Kashmir illegally, should also be identified.”
“The defunct Temple Trusts or Societies had failed to comply with statutory provisions laid down by the J&K government since their inception. There are 100 such defunct Temple Trusts or Societies in Kashmir. The defunct Temples Trusts have not submitted any audited balance sheets; minutes of meetings nor have conducted any elections in the presence of the election officers deputed by the Registrar of Societies from time to time. We had requested the Lieutenant Governor to intervene and ensure all sold, leased or rented temple land is retrieved as per the high court orders on Distress Sales Act, 1997,” he said.
“We request the J&K administration to immediately take action against all non-residents (Kashmiri migrants), who have not been living in Kashmir for the last 32 years yet have created so-called “Management Trusts of Temples” or Societies in various districts of Kashmir valley and have been collecting money from the public. All bank accounts for all defunct Temple Trusts or Societies should be seized until a new governing body is created for the respective temples under the observation of the Deputy Commissioner or Registrar of societies. We fear money collected illegally by the defunct Societies or Temple Trusts is being used towards illegal activities which can harm the national interests,” Mahaldar said, while referring to different laws and court decisions on this account.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir was not available for comment despite repeated attempts.