Pak Sindh finalising draft law to protect temples, churches

Islamabad: Authorities in Pakistan`s Sindh province are finalising a draft law to protect the shrines of minority communities like Hindus and Christians from the "land mafia", according to a media report on Tuesday. The draft of the proposed Protection of Religious Minorities Properties Act 2012 is expected to be ready this week, said legislator Saleem Khokhar.

"Anyone found violating the (proposed) law could be sent to prison for seven years and slapped with a fine," he told The Express Tribune.

"Religious buildings are only supposed to be used for religious purposes," he said. During a meeting of the Sindh Assembly`s standing committee on local government yesterday, the panel`s chairman, Pakistan People`s Party legislator Munawar Ali Abbasi, urged authorities to close loopholes so that the bill could be ready for a vote.

Khokhar, the chairman of the Assembly`s standing committee on minority affairs, said the bill will prohibit people from illegally taking control of temples, churches and gurdwaras and turning them into commercial establishments. Karachi alone has about 500 churches.

Hostels, seminaries and other religious and recreational properties that belong to minorities will be protected under the proposed law.

With the passing of the bill, matters pertaining to houses of worship that are involved in controversies or have been illegally taken over would hopefully be resolved.

Minority organisations have complained for the past few years that their places of worship across Pakistan have been illegally occupied by persons with political backing or members of the land mafia.

The organisations have also accused the Evacuee Trust Property Board, the official body responsible for protecting shrines and properties of minorities, of not doing enough to end such encroachment.

In Karachi, two Christian groups have accused each other of encroaching on free land around the St Andrew?s Church in Saddar. They have accused each other of using the property for commercial purposes such as setting up shops.

The grabbing of the land of the Young Men?s Christian Association too has been highlighted. Land grabbers have encroached on the YMCA sports ground, converting it into a wedding lawn and parking space.

In Soldier Bazaar, the ancient Shri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir continues to be threatened by illegal construction.

Encroachers have taken over half of its 2,609-square foot plot.