Pakistan chief justice flays govt for neglecting ancient Hindu temple

The sacred pond at the Katas Raj temple in Chakwal is drying up, reportedly because nearby cement factories were drawing large amounts of groundwater through a number of wells.

world Updated: Nov 23, 2017 23:44 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar,Punjab province,Katas Raj temple
Saqib Nisar described the Katas Raj temple as a national heritage site.(YouTube screengrab)

Pakistan’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar flayed the government on Thursday for its inability to safeguard one of the Hindu minority’s most revered places of worship, the Katas Raj temple in Chakwal, whose sacred pond is drying up.

Nisar described Katas Raj as a national heritage site that must be protected and directed authorities in Punjab province to form a committee to probe the issue.

The Supreme Court was hearing a suo moto case it had taken up on the basis of media reports that the pond at Katas Raj was drying up because nearby cement factories were drawing large amounts of groundwater through a number of wells.

Almost every home in Katas Waulah and Choa Saidan Shah, two nearby settlements, also draws water through bore wells in the absence of a proper water supply network. The unchecked plantation of eucalyptus saplings in the region has compounded the problem, some reports suggested.

“This temple is not just a place of cultural significance for the Hindu community, but also a part of our national heritage,” Nisar observed. “I want a solution to this problem.”

The chief justice ordered authorities to fill the pond within a week. “The pond should be filled in a week even if water has to be carried in water-skins to fill it,” he said.

The Punjab government and a district coordination officer submitted reports on the issue to the court, and the additional advocate general made important disclosures about a cement factory operating in the area, saying its water usage is greater than that of the entire population of Chakwal city.

Attorney general Ashtar Ausaf incurred the ire of the chief justice as he was absent when the court began hearing the matter. Once Ausaf arrived in court, Nisar stressed the importance of protecting the rights of the minorities.

Ausaf was directed to form a committee to assess the matter and to become an assistant to the panel. The chief justice suggested that a citizen of Chakwal who often raises his voice on the issue should be included in the committee.

“Our goal is to find a solution to the matter of how water can be provided,” Nisar said. “If we need to close down 10 tube wells or halt the water consumption of the factories, we will do it.”

He added it was regrettable that cement factories appeared to have cut away more than half the mountains in the area. The court, he said, was not against the setting up of factories “but they should be located in places that do not cause inconvenience to ordinary citizens”. He added, “It is unacceptable to live without access to clean water or air.”

The case was later adjourned for a week.

The Punjab government had earlier informed the Supreme Court that an aquifer feeding the pond at Katas Raj was under stress and this has caused a drastic fall in the water level. A report submitted to the apex court had attributed the depletion of water to a number of factors.

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 22:53 IST