In November last year, after the spire of Khanqah-e-Moula was destroyed in a fire, the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called for the safety audit of all the shrines of Kashmir. But eight months after the directive, very little has been done to protect these revered places of worship.
The chief minister, who is also the chairperson of the Waqf Board, had directed all the departments including the Waqf board, Fire and Emergency services, Power Development Department, Public Health Engineering (PHE), Police, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and other related departments to jointly conduct the safety audit and suggest precautionary measures to protect the shrines.
Mehbooba had directed installation of fire hydrants, smoke alarms and CCTVs to prevent fire occurrence at shrines. But the chief Minister's directive seems not to have been heeded as no progress has been made to make these shrines fire free.
The proposal of the Waqf board – after the shrine at Khanqah-e-Mohalla caught fire- to install anti-lightning measures and CCTV cameras in shrines, has also turned out to be a flop idea, as no such measures have been installed at shrines especially the vulnerable Khanqah shrine.
A devotee at the Khanqah shrine says, "The government and the people from Waqf board came only on the day when the shrine caught fire. They made big statement about the safety of the shrine, but later forget their promises."
The board is yet to install the smoke-detecting alarms at the shrine. The board has also failed to install CCTV cameras in the shrines. There are over 60 shrines that are under the supervision of the Waqf Board.
The installation of the CCTV cameras had been entrusted to the state Home department's security wing. As of now the board has installed cameras only at a few shrines – Assari Sharief Hazratbal, Makhdoom Sahib, Peer Dastigeer Sahab, Khawja Naqashband Sahab, K.K Moulla, Syed Yaqoob Sahab Sonwar, Syed Mantaqi Sahab Awantipora and Charari-e –Sharief. There are over 93 shrines and mosques that are under the control of the board. For the slow pace of the work, the waqf board blames PDD, Police, PHE and other departments.
When the fire at the Khanqah-e- Mohalla broke out the government asked the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to come up with the drawings within two days so that the restoration work is initiated.
A look at the track record of the government in preserving the shrines is not very heartening. In 2012, a fire gutted the 245-year-old Dastageer Sahib Shrine. Omar Abdullah, who was the chief Minister at that time, ordered a fire safety audit of all major shrines in the valley. The government had also asked for an action plan for the protection and preservation of the shrines.
A committee was constituted to inquire into the fire incident at Dastageer Sahib Shrine. Apart from seeking a detailed probe by agencies concerned to find out the exact cause of fire, the committee had suggested a slew of measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future. But none of these recommendations has shown results.
Nizam –ud-din Bhat, Vice Chairperson Waqf Board says, ". The work is in progress, all queries are being looked into and after Eid we will start the practical work."
But a source in the waqf Board says that the estimate that has come from PDD for the electrification, illumination and installation of lightning arresters at the shrine is 92 Lakhs for 11 shrines and that is the reason behind the slow pace of work.