In search of granite, path to Durga’s temple blown up with dynamite


KARACHI – Despite continuing protest by Hindus in the Tharparkar district, the Sindh government has not taken any action against the extraction of granite from the path leading to the Durga Mata Temple located in Karoonjhar Hills. The Hindus allege that their highly-revered temple in Tharparkar is in danger as a Karachi-based stone-crushing company has been dynamiting away the hills surrounding the temple and if the stone-crushing continues, the temple will be destroyed completely. Although the PPP-led Sindh government had recently announced cancellation of all existing leases and a complete ban on issuance of new leases to stone-crushing and mining companies involved in extraction of granite from Karoonjhar Hills, five major companies are still extracting stone from the said area.
Two of these companies – Koh-e-Noor and Abdullah & Sons – were issued licences to extract stone from the Chooriyo Hill itself, which has the Durga Mata Temple on its top. In addition to housing the Durga Mata Temple, Karoonjhar Hills are the habitat of different endangered birds, animals, reptiles and other wildlife species.
“The companies have destroyed the path leading to the temple and if they continue extracting granite at this speed, one day they will raze the temple also,” Prabhu, a resident of Chooriyo village told Pakistan Today. A social activist, Veerji Kolhi, said he visited the temple on the religious festival of Shivratri on February 2 and witnessed some workers digging into the hills.
“They were using dynamites to extract granite and I believe that if they continue like this, the temple will be destroyed very soon, said Kolhi, adding that the local people have been protesting against the attitude of the Sindh government.
There are several more historical Hindu and Jain temples located in different areas including Bhodisar, Sadhro, Nangar Bazaar Temple that are very important and Hindus from India, Nepal and others countries often visit these temples. According to local residents, the Karoonjhar Mountains house around one dozen temples. Expressing deep concern over the threat posed by extraction of granite in Tharparkar, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had demanded that the Sindh government should take immediate notice of this important matter related with the preservation of the religious and cultural heritage of a minority community.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Koh-e-Noor manager Muhammad Sultan Khoso confirmed that his company was extracting stone from the area. “We have never used dynamite for stone extraction, as the area is near the Indian border and blasts are not allowed. We are manually digging the Chooriyo Hill for granite and have a government license for it,” said Khoso. “We are aware of the importance of the temple located on top of the hill and will not touch the area surrounding it. Recently, while digging for stones, we destroyed a portion of the path leading to the temple, after which the people started protesting,” he explained.
However, on contact, Sindh Mines and Mineral Department secretary Allah Dito Shar expressed ignorance of the issue, saying he was recently transferred.
“I assure you that in my tenure no lease will be issued to any company,” he said.
Mine and Mineral Department Director General with additional charge of provincial secretary Abdul Ghani Jokhio said: “These companies were issued the leases several years ago but the current government has imposed a complete ban on the issuance of new licences and is going to cancel all the previous ones too. He claimed that no company was working in Karoonjhar Mountains for stone crushing. However, on being informed that some companies were still busy in granite extraction, he said that he will conduct an inquiry.
“We cancelled the lease of Koh-e-Noor three years ago but they approached the court. If they are still extracting stone, I will conduct an inquiry to put an end to it, as the government has already imposed a ban there,” said Jokhio, adding that if the protesting locals contact him, he will try to immediately stop the ongoing operation.
Sindh Minority Affairs minister Mohan Lal Kohistani said that after coming to know of the protest of Hindus, he contacted Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, who has assured the cancellation of leases and stopping the operation at the site. Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister Waqar Mehdi also expressed ignorance on the issue but assured that an inquiry will be made as the PPP government respects the religious minorities.
Spread over 32 square kilometres, the Karoonjhar Mountains are located near the Nangarparkar Town in the Tharparkar district on the north-eastern edge of the Rann of Kutch, stretching up to the Indian border. With the hills consisting of granite in different colours, this small mountainous stretch is quite different from the Thar Desert encompassing the whole Tharparkar district. The mountains are covered with several types of endangered trees, shrubs and herbs while several brooklets like Sardharo Bhitiani and Gordhro stream through the hills, thus providing a secure habitat for several species of birds, animals and other wildlife.
However, stone extraction from the area has severely disturbed these wildlife species. Environmentalists and nature conservationists recently demanded declaring the Karoonjhar Mountains as a national park and a protected wildlife site. A survey conducted by the Sindh Wildlife Department also stated that the place qualifies to be declared a national park. It is worth mentioning that border security forces check the entry of every single person as Karoonjhar is a border area, but the presence of such huge machinery in the area suggests involvement of government officials.