Bill in J-K assembly for Machail Yatra Shrine Board; Geelani calls it a new way of occupation


By Fahad Shah | New Delhi

The Jammu and Kashmir will be having a shrine board for the Chandi Mata Machail Dham pilgrimage in Kishtawar. The board will be constituted if the bill, placed in the legislative assembly by a Congress party member, will be passed. The pro-freedom leaders, however, have been demanding the dismantling of the earlier shrine boards and oppose this proposed one.

A copy of the bill, passed by Legislative Council on October 10, 2012, was laid on the table of the house for the consensus of the Jammu and Kashmir state legislative assembly by the Secretary of the assembly, Mohammad Ramzan, on March 1, 2013. The private member’s bill No. 3 of 2012, if passed in the legislative assembly, is for the constitution of “Jammu and Kashmir Shri Chandi Mata Machail Dham (Machail Yatra) Shrine Board”.

The bill was brought in the council by the Congress member, Naresh Kumar Gupta from Doda, during the summer session of the council in Srinagar last year.  Kumar told The Kashmir Walla that the bill had got more than 25 votes out of 30 members present in the council. “Only 4 or 5 people from National Conference, who were present, opposed the bill. The members were asked to stand up and not raise hands to vote at the time of the passing the bill,” said Kumar.

He adds when the bill was produced there was around 150000 pilgrim number. “In 2012, the pilgrims were more than 300000. I am expecting more than 500000 this year. There are lot of articles, structures and land for the pilgrimage and all that will be handed over to the board, once formed,” said Kumar.

The assembly secretary, Ramzan says that the bill has was passed in the legislative council and as per the rules he received the copy of the bill from the council and it had to be laid down in the assembly.

As per the 4-page bill, state governor will head the board. The proposed board is supposed to look after the affairs of the pilgrimage – creating facilities for pilgrims and ensure proper management and utilisation of the resources donated by the pilgrims at the shrine. In 2011 pilgrimage, 99326 pilgrims paid their obeisance at the temple. The pilgrimage starts in the month of August, earlier it used to be for a period of 10 days but over the years it has been extended.

The leading pro-freedom leader and the chairman of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani says that the creation of shrine boards is like creating state within the state. “This Machail yatra board is one more step by the government, proving that in the garb of shrine boards they are doing different things. It is only to show their power to people. These boards, which are directly under the control of Delhi, have made yatras political. It is only to terrorise people and a new way of occupation,” Geelani told The Kashmir Walla.

While the pro-freedom leadership of Kashmir has been demanding dismantling of the Amarnath Shrine Board, the state government will be creating another one. He added that the Amarnath pilgrimage has been going for hundreds of years and Muslims used to run it in past. “Since the shrine board was constituted, it has become a state within the state. They start constructions and harm ecology of the valley. We have been saying that the board should be dismantled and yatra be given to Kashmiri Pandits,” Geelani said.

However, Kumar says that there is nothing objectionable in the bill, but there might be some amendments and the bill will be passed in the assembly. He said, “It doesn’t need government money even it will provide employment. From the available people in the assembly it should get more than 50 percent votes. For now it is on table and there will be discussion and views will be taken from the members. Then after considering the suggestions, this can pass or defer. Likely I think this will be passed with certain amendments. The board will be headed by the governor as similar as the pattern of Amarnath and Vaishno Devi yatra boards.”

In April 2012, the then minister for Tourism and Culture, Nawang Rigzin Jora had chaired a high level meeting, in Jammu, convened to discuss the modalities for the proposed board. The minister had asked the concerned authorities to formulate a proposal envisaging the structure and function of the proposed pilgrimage management body. It was said that the tourism department had submitted a project report of Rs. 5 crore to the centre for approval and funding, in order to enhance the infrastructure and provide more facilities at the Chandi Mata shrine area.

The state tourism minister, Ghulam Ahmed Mir told The Kashmir Walla that there has been demand for the constitution of a board for Machail shrine and now the bill has been put on table in amended situation. “It was people’s demand to create a board. There are 300,000-350,000 pilgrims who visit the shrine annually, earlier it used to be less. This new board will be same as we have for Amarnath yatra and Vaisno Devi yatra,” the minister said.

He also said that if the board will be constituted it will be for the improvement of the facilities and infrastructure for the pilgrimage. “There is a long stretch to pass to reach to the shrine, so under the board it will be improved for the safety of the pilgrims,” he added.

The temple of Chandi Mata is located in far off Paddar area at village Machail. The temple has historical significance as it is said to be constructed during tenth century, with idols made of rare metal. The Machail pilgrimage was first started in the year 1980 from Bhaderwah-Chinote with 25 pilgrims. In the year 1985 a registered organization Sarva Shakti Sevak Sanstha organized regular Machail pilgrimage and since then it is annually.

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