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Control of Vaishno Devi Shrine: HC issues notice to J&K, shrine board over Hindu Baridars plea

Justice Javed Iqbal Wani issued notices to the UT of J&K and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to reply within four weeks.
Hindustan Times, Jammu | By Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
UPDATED ON AUG 26, 2020 08:38 PM IST

Pursuant upon a petition filed by Hindu Baridars, whose forefathers had the control over the Vaishno Devi Shrine, the high court on Wednesday issued notices to the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

Justice Javed Iqbal Wani issued notices to the UT of J&K and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to reply within four weeks.

The petition has been filed by Baridar Sangharsh Committee through its president Sham Singh and 54 others. “The notices have been issued to secretary law department of J&K administration and CEO Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Shrine Board,” advocate Ankur Sharma said.

The petitioners through the writ petition challenged the constitutional validity of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Act, 1988, which took away the control of the shrine from the hands of Hindus (Baridars) and vested it in the hands of the government. “Apart from this they have also sought a complete handover of the management, administration and governance of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine and its endowments and all other properties to the Hindus (Baridars), in true letter and spirit of Article 26 of the Constitution of India,” he added.

Alleging mismanagement by the government controlled shrine board, the petitioners have also sought conduct of external audit of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Shrine funds since 1986 through a reputed audit firm or an audit institution which should be constitutional or statutory in nature.

The petitioners via their counsel stressed upon enforcement of fundamental rights as guaranteed under Article 25 (2)(a), 26, 29, 14 and 31 A (b) of the Constitution of India.

Advocate Sharma stressed that in all these decades, Hindu religious institutions in Jammu and Kashmir have been under the control of state and the ability of the Hindu community to administer its own institutions has been systematically clipped and pared down. “The state in brazen violation of Article 14 has exercised its authority only against Hindu temples,” he said.

The holy shrine of Vaishno Devi was discovered and established by Baridars under the spiritual guidance of Pandit Shridhar Ji in 10th Century A.D. Pandit Shridhar used to live in village Hansali at the foothill of the Trikuta Mountains. This village is in close proximity to the present town of Katra.

The discovery of the Shrine dates back to the age of Mahabharata. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence available in public domain validating the veracity of this fact, he added.

The management, administration and governance of the holy cave shrine including right of offerings always remained with the Baridars before it was taken over by the state in 1986.

The temple administration was taken over by the government allegedly on the grounds of mismanagement and maladministration.

Citing other reasons of the petitioners, advocate Sharma said the state must maintain the same degree of distance from Hindu religious institutions as it does with Muslim and Christian institutions. “There is no sanction in the Constitution for the state’s imposition on Hindu religious institutions alone,” he added.

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