The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board seeking their reply to a writ petition challenging state control of Hindu religious shrine in Trikuta Hills.
The petition was filed by Baridars Sangarsh Samiti comprising members a Hindu religious denomination who used to perform pooja and protect the holy shrine until its management and control was taken over by the then state Governor Jagmohan in the mid-1980s and handed over to the newly constituted Shrine Board headed by him as its chairman.
The petitioners including Sangarsh Samiti president Sham Singh and 54 others have challenged the constitutional validity of The Jammu and Kashmir Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Act, 1988, an Act which took away the control of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji 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.
Alleging mismanagement by the government-controlled Shrine Board, the petitioners have also sought conduct of an external audit of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Shrine Fund since 1986. Counsel advocate Ankur Sharma stressed that in all these decades, Hindu religious institutions in Jammu and Kashmir have been under the control of the 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 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. “The State must maintain at the very least 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,” Sharma said.
The petitioners also alleged that the Shrine Board funds were squandered for throwing Iftaar parties in favour of members of a different religious group and that funds from the Shrine have been transferred/spent by the Board which are beyond the pale of Section 4 of the impugned Act causing a broad day light heist on Hindu sentiments. They also accused the Shrine Board of having employed several non-Hindus at various posts in its administration.
Justice Javed Iqbal Wani directed the registry to list the case immediately after four weeks.
The Vaishno Devi shrine, according to the petition was discovered and established by Baridars in 10th century A.D., under the spiritual guidance of Pandit Shridhar Ji, who used to live in Hansali village in the foothills of Trikuta mountains and which presently falls in close proximity to the present Katra town. However, it is the faith of Baridars that Pandit Shridhar Ji belonged to the Mahabharata Age, and discovery and establishment of the Shrine dates back to the age of Mahabharata, it said, adding that there is also sufficient anecdotal evidence available in public domain validating the veracity of this fact.