The Kashmiri Hindus Shrines bill for management of temples by the state government was sent to the joint select committee, comprising members of both upper and lower Houses, after it faced opposition in its present form from Hindu MLAs of the Jammu division on Tuesday.
Peoples Democratic Party, the principal opposition party, pressing for voting on it staged a walkout and said the government had insulted the miniscule Kashmiri Pandit community by its act.
Public health engineering (PHE) minister Sham Lal Sharma from the Congress made an intervention in the debate and proposed that since it's a delicate matter it should be referred to the joint select committee as there is representation of the KP community in the assembly but not in the council.
The bill, which was earlier tabled in 2009, was again referred back to the House after the select committee of the assembly couldn't reach a consensus on it in its present form.
The main contention of MLAs from the Jammu division, those of the BJP, Panthers Party and Congress also, was on two counts. Their first contention was the word Kashmiri Hindus should be replaced by Hindus, as Hindu is one entity and can't be differentiated.
Their second and crucial contention was that shrines, which are being managed by Hindu organisations, including Dharmarath Trust, even during the past 20 years of turmoil in the valley, should be excluded from the purview of the bill.
They said the spirit and aim of the bill is to manage shrines, which have been abandoned because of migration of the KPs and whose land has been encroached upon, and not forcible control of orgnaisation that had been running the affairs uninterrupted in the valley.
Panthers Party MLA Harsh Dev Singh had proposed an amendment to exclude temples and shrine managed by J&K Dharmarth Trust Council, Ramakrishana Mission, Baba Jamuna Dass Rani Mandir Bairagi Trust and some other organisations, from the bill.
"We are not opposed to inclusion of shrines left abandoned after migration of KPs but not forcible government takeover of temples managed by such organisations, which had run them even during the height of militancy and performed religious duties," he said.
He said Dharamarth Trust is managing about 70 temples in the state, including many in the valley.
Harsh Dev also said the word Kashmiri Hindus is divisive word and it should be replaced with just Hindus. All
Hindu MLAs of the Jammu division supported these amendments.
BJP MLA Jugal Kishore said if government forcibly takes control of temples managed by Dharmarth Trust and other organisations, which are performing religious function, it will be seen as an encroachment on the fundamental rights of Hindus and it could result communal polarisation in the state.
He said only those temples left abandoned should be taken over. Speaking on the same lines, Chaman Lal Gupta, Ashok Khajuria, Jagdish Sapolia and Ashwani Sharma opposed the bill in its present form.
The debate generated a heat in the House, at which Sham Lal Sharma made the proposal of a joint select committee. "The aim should be to bridge the gap between communities and not widen it, so it should be referred to the joint select committee," he said.
CPM MLA MY Tarigami strongly supported the passing of the bill in its present form. PDP MLA AR Veeri supported the bill and said if the government was apprehensive of division in the assembly then why it was brought? His party colleagues pressed for voting.
Finance minister AR Rather, who had moved the bill on behalf of the law minister, said MLAs shouldn't be swayed by emotions and that he being in opposition in 2005 had proposed the same bill.
The House was adjourned by the speaker at about 1.45 pm and was reconvened at 3 pm.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the government should have sorted out the nitty-gritty of the bill and if it was not serious then it was brought in the House and the manner in which it has been brought in it had created division.
The speaker said since there is division in the House over the issue and it being a delicate matter, the bill should be send to the joint select committee.