The administration of Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places Bill was susceptible since its introduction. The connotations and nomenclature of the bill were seen as divisive and anti-Jammu by Jammu-based leadership and people.
The objection was not to the spirit but to the aim of the bill. The spirit was to manage temples, which had been abandoned after the
migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in 1990. There are more than 500 temples in the Kashmir region.
The government had said about 100 temples are in a bad shape. However, a research done by social activist and journalist Ajat Shatru Jamwal had documented 274 temples across the valley, which are in ruins and their land encroached. Barring a few, 60 temples managed by Dharmarth Trust in Kashmir are being properly managed and were not damaged even during the turmoil.
Finance minister AR Rather, when he was in the Opposition, introduced a bill to manage these temples in 2005. There was no opposition to it then.
The problem started when, after the NC came to power, the members who drafted the bill couldn't understand the need of excluding temples managed by Dharmarth Trust and some other organisations. Prem Nath Bhat Memorial Trust pushed the demand to bring in these temples also. After this many KP organisations also started raising the same demand.
The trust was founded in 1846 by then Maharaja Ghulab Singh, during whose rule many temples were built, and it managed about 240 temples then, including those in Pakistan and Pak-occupied Kashmir. The trust now manages 102 temples -- 60 in Kashmir, including famous Shankaracharya temple and Mattan temple.
These are the temples where religious functions were performed even during the period of militancy in the valley. One of the contentions of opposing the bill in its present form is that since the bill aims to manage only abandoned temples the government can't take control of temples that are functioning.
Some other groups are also opposed to the idea of bringing in a government body to manage all temples. Many committees managing
temples, excluding Dharmarth Trust, who are protecting and managing them said their role would be nullified in that case.
A section of people in Jammu also believe that it's an attempt to remove the last signs of the erstwhile Dogra rule in Kashmir. There is a feeling that the bill in its present form could create a divide among people of Jammu and KPs settled here after migration.
It's for this reason that a section within the KPs also wants to exclude Dharmarth Trust and other organisations from the purview of
According to an estimate, the management of even temples left by KPs will require hundreds of crores of rupees and also annual recurring expenses.
Panthers Party MLA Harsh Dev, while opposing the bill in the last session, had raised the issue of financial memorandum of the bill.
"The spirit is to preserve abandoned temples, which nobody opposes. But if the aim is to infringe on the rights of an organisation, which built and manages the temples, then it will boomerang," said journalist Ajat Shatru.