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Little to serve, more to settle: SASB’s vast pool of funding never been accounted for.

Posted by Kashmir Portal on June 10, 2009

Little to serve, more to settle: SASB’s vast pool of funding never been accounted for.
Predman Ganjoo

JAMMU, June 5: With a view to develop better infrastructure to facilitate comfortable pilgrimage for pilgrims, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) constituted in November 2000, better known for the controversies has little to serve and more to settle.

Depending on donations and grants-in-aids, SASB constituted in 2000 became functional in 2001, but during the course of its 8 years of existence, the Board has created more controversies than serve the purpose it was constituted for. Irrespective of the reasons, SASB neither offered better services to the pilgrims nor improved the infrastructure enroute the holy cave. Ill-planning, corrupt practices, lack of accountability and political hiccups proved disastrous for both the pilgrimage and the local economy, says a representation made to Chief Executive Officer, SASB by Amarnath Traders and Labourers Union (ATLU).

Starting with an amount of Rs 2 crores received from the state government as grant-in-aid to meet the expenditure or part thereof on account of compensation to the erstwhile stakeholders – namely (1) Mahant , (2) Malik family of Batkote Pahalgam and (3) the Purohits of Martand and Ganeshpora, Pahalgam, whose rights ceased once SASB was formed. SASB was in receipt of additional amount of Rs 10.39 crores from 2001 to 2004 by way of donations and financial assistance from Government of India. Though donations and aids went on building up, SASB failed on both the counts – neither it improved the infrastructure nor settled the claims of the stakeholders fully.

From 2001 to 2004, SASB received total revenue of Rs 7.89 crore through donations besides gold and silver ornaments worth Rs 50 lakhs. In the year 2004, Union of India, Ministry of Tourism also gave a financial assistance of Rs 2 crore, making it a total of Rs 12.39 crores.

Though SASB was obliged to pay compensation to the erstwhile stakeholders, as decided by the one-man Commission headed by Justice (Retd) H L Mishra, decisions of SASB not only created controversies but also proved unfriendly for pilgrims and uneconomical for the Board, claims Abdul Salam of Bholay Baba Travel Agency Pahalgam.

Decision to enhance the yatra period also proved adverse. Instead of developing infrastructure out of the donations, SASB had to spend huge amounts on litigations that were created by such decisions.

Working against the nature, the purchase of pre-fabricated huts worth crores of rupees neither serve the purpose nor earn suitable revenue for the Board. The huts erected at vulnerable stations of Sheshnaag (12), Panchtarni (13) and Pahalgam (25) because of severe winters and heavy snowfalls could not be maintained satisfactorily, as the locations were not accessible during winters. Though detachable, SASB undermined the carriage cost of the huts due to the mountainous tracks, costing huge amounts with the result most of the prefabricated huts were left in no man’s control during the off season.

In addition to natural calamities, these huts have been a free abode for one and all including the nomads and anti-social elements during the off yatra periods. As alleged by ATLU, wherever and in whatever condition these huts exist, SASB never used them judiciously. During 8 years of its existence, SASB never went for physical verification of the huts involving crores of rupees.

The traders and labourers union considering the yatra period a golden period to earn their livelihood have serious reservations with the practice of Prashad being arranged through contractors. It is alleged that on one hand the quantity and quality of Prashad is so poor that it does not value more than Rs 30 at the holy cave when the sole contractor has fixed a rate at Rs 101. This practice not only harms the sanctity of the pilgrimage but also brings huge economic loss to the local traders, said Abdul Rashid of ATUL adding the practice must be stopped and local traders be allowed to sell Prashad through their temporary outlets, which of-course must be open for check by the appropriate authorities, he added.

Decrying erection of artificial ice lingam at the holy cave, Rashid strongly objects to the practice saying it is against the faith of locals.

Mohammad Jabbar Malik, the successor of Malik family of Batkote Pahalgam demanding maximum pilgrimage from Pahalgam side, being the traditional route to the holy cave, has asked for proper and timely information to the intending pilgrims, so that congestions are avoided at the base camp at Pahalgam and the pilgrims are well educated about the rough weather, the pilgrimage is subject to.

Allegedly things deteriorated and the purpose failed when corrupt and politically influential people encroached on the Board and indulged in corrupt practices and nepotism.

Demanding physical verification, accountability and sound planning of the pilgrimage with due consideration to local interests and faith, ATLU expects the new management under new CEO to perform well so that controversies are avoided and satisfactory pilgrimage involving local people upheld.

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