Tuesday, October 9, 2007

POLLUTION THREAT LOOMS OVER HOLY KATASRAJ IN PAKISTAN

POLLUTION THREAT LOOMS OVER HOLY KATASRAJ IN PAKISTAN
By Rashmi Talwar




A panoramic view of seven Shiv temples which are without idols and ‘kalash’ (elongated tip of the dome), in Katasraj. — photo by Rashmi Talwar
Katasraj (Pakistan ), March 13, 2005
-------------The holy Katasra in Pakistan, considered the second holiest shrine for Hindus after ‘Jwalamukhi’ in undivided Punjab, is connected with ancient temples of Lord Shiva and the Pandavas. It is also known for the little known Buddhist stupa and historic ‘haveli’ of Hari Singh Nalwa, general of the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is facing a threat of pollution in its “unsullied” mountainous air and its natural pure water springs and water bodies due to cement factories being allowed by the government .
Three cement factories are operational and three more are in the offing in the nearby area of Choa Saidan Shah, 3 or 4 km from the historic shrines. According to sources, ‘Bestway Constructions’, ‘DG Cement’ and ‘Chakwal Cement’ concerns are in the pipeline.
Locals here who mainly have meagre sources of income from farming-related activities, mining and industrial labour and public sector are sore over the alleged acquisition of their land by private cement moghuls due to abundance of limestone and other raw material for cement.
Last month, a protest was launched by locals that forced the companies to assure them employment and to take anti-pollution measures. Experts feel that the assurances were merely lip service and the effects could contaminate the water that flowed from the holy sarovar of Katasraj and was supplied to some 40 villages in the vicinity, besides other water sources.
Apprehensions have also surfaced over the marine life and natural habitat that has hundreds of migratory birds, besides peacocks, in ‘Kallar Kalar’ nearby, encompassing the composite beauty of the holy area to be affected.
A cement factory already exists at Tatral village near here. The shrines are devoid of much vegetation and a holy ‘Shisham’ tree that legend states was half burnt and half green, is a mute spectator to ruin of these shrines .
The development work sanctioned by the federal Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs with a grant of Rs 2 crore for the site has invited doubt from the Hindu jathas visiting here. New construction of concrete steps and guest house adjoining one of the ancient structures were pointed out as eyesores, incompatible with the ancient architecture, a majority of which is known to be influenced in a unique blend of Kashmiri and Gandhara tradition, according to some experts.
Jatha leader Prof Krishan Chand had suggested that development should be in congruity with shrines and modification of existing new structures could be taken into account. Lt-Gen Zulfiqar Ali Khan (retd), chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board, when asked about cement factories, said he was not aware of the development. Katasraj is also connected to Alberuni, a famous muslim scientist and explorer who learned Sanskrit here and performed experiments.
Mr Ravinder Kumar Chibber, the only Hindu member, zila council of Chakwal, said a joint committee needed to be set up for the maintenance , renovation , restoration and upkeep of this sacred historic site.

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