The serai (accommodation) at Gurdwara Manikaran Sahib that was hit by a landslide on Tuesday, leaving seven pilgrims dead and several missing, is an unauthorised structure built on encroached forest land.
Stating this over phone from the incident site on Wednesday, Kullu deputy commissioner Rakesh Kanwar told Hindustan Times that the Manikaran gurdwara had a huge chunk of land in its possession and a significant part of it was an encroachment.
Kanwar said the government had filed an affidavit before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), submitting that the Manikaran Sahib Gurdwara premises had encroached on forest land. “We have directed the forest department to assess how much forest land has been encroached upon,” he said.
“The premises hit by the landslide was built on government land,” a revenue official said.
The divisional forest officer (DFO) of the Parvati division, Sandeep Sharma, said a first information report (FIR) was registered against the gurdwara committee earlier this year for encroaching on eight bighas, where a parking area is being constructed.
The gurdwara serai building is located on the riverbed of the Parvati river. There is no arrangement to protect the premises from the turbulent flow of the river.
Local environmentalist Abhishek Rai had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in this regard in the Himachal Pradesh high court in 2011 that was transferred to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2013.
“Manikaran gurdwara and another religious institution in Kullu are disposing sewage waste in the Beas and Parvati rivers,” he said. The NGT has imposed a penalty on them and asked them to set up a sewage treatment plant (STP).
The Manikaran Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee replied that it was ready to set up the treatment plant but the government was not providing adequate land to do so. The district administration filed an affidavit that the committee had encroached upon forest land.
When contacted, committee chief Baba Shriram said, “This place is an ancient shrine and now several people visit it daily. There is no forest encroachment though one case is pending in court.”