Last November, one of the holiest shrines of Kashmir, Khanqah –e-Mohalla, caught fire and much of its upper portion went up in the flames. Thanks to the intervention of the fire brigade officials and the local people the fire was put off in time to stop it from spreading down. A few months later a fire broke out at Dastigeer Sahab (RA) mosque, but again due to the alertness of devotees it was extinguished quickly. It is not just the shrines that are vulnerable to fire and other dangers, even the devotees aren’t safe once inside the holy places.
An old ceiling fan fell on a devotee at the Asar–I-Sharief Shehri shrine at Kalashpora, Srinagar. The Intizamia Committee of the shrine has complained that that ceiling fans in the shrine installed forty years back are rusty and old and no longer dependable. A devotee, the committee said, nearly lost his life in the accident. The Waqf authorities, despite repeated messages, didn’t repair or replace the fans, the committee said.
The Intizamia further says that that the Asar-I-Sharief shrine possesses more than five kanals of land at Mohalla Baba demb at the Nallah Mar Main road. Few years ago the local intizamia reserved some land for the construction of a commercial building to generate money for the shrine, but the land was illegally grabbed by locals, without paying any compensation or rent, resulting in the loss of lakhs of rupees. The matter was brought to the notice to Waqf Board, but they paid no heed.
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 the recurrence of such incidents in future. But none of these recommendations has shown results.
And after the fire broke out in Khanqah, the former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, also asked for a safety audit of all the shrines.
The minister 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 also directed the officials to install fire hydrants, smoke alarms and CCTVs to prevent fire occurrence at shrines. But the directive seems not to have been heeded as no progress has been made to make these shrines fire free.
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.
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.