The wave of excitement and appreciation among Islamabad’s Hindu community in late June, following the announcement of the capital’s first functioning Hindu temple, appears to have dissipated as the matter has been mired in bureaucratic quicksand.
However, to blame the slow-churning wheels of government alone would not be fair. After all, it took a sustained and planned effort, which included clerics as well as elected officials, to derail the government’s decision to allot funds for the temple’s construction — a concept anathema to religious extremists.
As the government buckled into pressure, the issue of the temple’s funding — the Religious Affairs Ministry had proposed allotting Rs100 million for its construction — now rests with the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) which will decide whether an Islamic state can allot government funds for construction of a non-Muslim place of worship.
When asked, CII Chairperson Dr Qibla Ayaz, who is also a member of the recently-formed National Commission for Minority Rights, refrained from giving his opinion on the matter, saying that the 20-member council will deliberate the issue and give its opinion “soon”.
It has already been several years since the plot was allotted to the capital’s Hindu Panchayat (council) by the previous government. The council claims that since then, they had had to fight off land-grabbers a number of times who wanted to occupy the idle piece of land. This is why, they assert, they began constructing a boundary wall around the site after its inauguration this year.
Talking to Sabaat, ruling party lawmaker and Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights Lal Malhi — who performed the ground-breaking of the temple amid much fanfare in June this year — regretted the plethora of complaints and religious edicts against the temple’s construction, saying those opposing it are against promoting a ‘soft image’ of the country and Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan.
Malhi explained that the plot allotted to the Hindu Council is meant for a temple, auditorium, community hall and Shamshan Ghat (cremation ground), and thus holds a special place in the hearts of the city’s Hindu residents.
“All this would cost Rs500 million and the government should release Rs100 million for this purpose in the first phase,” he implored, adding that if the CII cannot sanction the allotment of state funds, the community members will have no choice but to start construction from its own meagre resources.
Regarding objections raised by the Capital Development Authority (CDA), which termed the construction of the boundary wall illegal, Malhi informed Sabaat that the building plan for the temple was submitted to the Religious Affairs Ministry which then forwarded it to the prime minister for approval. He claimed that they have been pleading the CDA to allow construction of a boundary wall, the design of which has reportedly been submitted to the authority along with the required fee, but there has been no response on the matter from the civic agency.
When contacted, CDA Media Director Mazhar Hussain denied the submission of any sort of building plan for the temple, including one for a boundary wall, and reiterated that no construction work can take place until approval of the site plan by the authority.