SHARDA: Civil society on Sunday raised concerns over a new construction inside the compound of Sharda temple, a centuries-old religious place and now an archaeological site, near the Line of Control in Neelum Valley district of Azad Jammu Kashmir.
“We people consider this ‘wooden cabin’ inside historical compound as encroachment,” said Sardar Aurangzeb, a local journalist. “This (cabin) is start of encroachment,” said Amir Ali, a local archaeology student. “I can expect a concrete structure here in coming days,” he said.
However, the Tourism and Archaeology Department has denied issuance of permission for any construction inside the compound. But photographs of the newly-established wooden cabin have gone viral on social media last week.
“I don’t have any specific information about the construction, neither have we issued any permission,” said Naeem Bismal, the director general of the Tourism and Archaeology Department. He said that the department would investigate the issue and would remove the cabin, if exist there.
Apparently, the cabin is established as a ‘tuck-shop’ to sell snacks to the visitors of the historic site on daily bases. “It (cabin) is unfortunate,” said Khawaja Raees, another official of the department. He said that strict action would be taken against those involved in the illegal occupation of the area. The Tourism and Archaeology Department has mandate to identify and preserve historical sites.
Some five years ago, the department lunched a project for the preservation of the Sharda temple but it was not completed due to lack of funds. The parts of the temple have vanished and the rest area around it is covered by the security forces. Raees said that the department was mostly focusing on the tourism and have a very low funds and staff to carry out documentation and preservation of the sites like Sharda.
“Our (tourism) department has only word ‘archaeology’ attached to it. We do not have funds or staff for archaeological projects,” he added. In ancient times, the temple had been a site of a Buddhist University, now disappeared from the scene.
The civil society on both sides of the Line of Control has asked the political leadership to renovate the Sharada temple and allow Hindu pilgrims to visit the site.
Despite having rich historic background, the temple is not enlisted as UNESCO’s world heritage site.
Sardar Aurangzeb contributed in reporting from Sharda.