Money generated by shrine benefits railwaymen
RAWALPINDI, Dec 30: Cash offerings by devotees visiting various shrines are assumed to be used to support the needy and for the welfare and maintenance of the premises but a shrine in the garrison city paints an alternative picture.
Investigations by Dawn have revealed that the donations collected at a shrine in the garrison city are openly being used by the Pakistan Railways (PR) for the welfare of its employees.
A visit to the shrine located on Railway Road near Transit Camp of Pakistan Army showed that it is in complete shambles: there is no water, lighting and seating arrangements for the devotees who come here for prayers.
On the day this scribe visited the shrine, the devotees could be seen standing on the road offering prayers for the departed even though it was raining.
In fact, the devotees were mostly women from low-income areas from different parts of the city, who gather every Thursday and light earthen lamps for the fulfillment of their wishes.
Locals claim that the shrine belongs to Hazrat Baba Masoom Shah, a man who hailed from Afghanistan and had settled in the area in 1882 to teach the Islamic way of life and values to Muslims in this part of the country.
“The shrine was constructed along the railway lines during the British Raj. Baba Masoom Shah also worked as a coolie (porter) at Rawalpindi Railway Station and spent his earnings for the welfare of the people,” said Raja Yasir Aslam, a railway employee and devotee, while talking to Dawn.
Suhail Malik, a devotee, said that many people donated money.
“I don’t know about the fate of the money neither do I care because I only donate for Baba Jee,” he said.
However, he said that the managers of the shrine should do something good for the devotees who stand at the shrine for many hours in the rain and bad weather.
“There was no drinking water and only recently someone has put two earthen pots with drinking water for devotees,” he complained.
Earlier, the shrine was looked after by a local pir from Ratta Amral but in 2000 then Federal Minister for Railways General (retired) Javed Ashraf Qazi with the help of the garrison city administration managed to evict Musarat Shah, the custodian of the shrine.
According to a senior railway official, the shrine generates more than Rs2.5 million annually from the charity fund (Nazranas).
However, he added, utilisation of funds is on the discretionary powers of Divisional Superintendent of Rawalpindi.
“The shrine has also become the bone of contention between the Auqaf Department and PR as both want to keep the shrine in its custody due to its wealth,” he revealed.
“The Auqaf Department visited many times during the tenure of military dictator General (retired) Pervez Musharraf from 2000-2008 but the PR refused to hand over the shrine on the pretext that it was adjacent to the railways line and would create problems for Pakistan Railway if it would be managed by other departments,” he said.
Similarly, Pakistan Railways Union President Ishtiaq Asi said: “The railway officials misused the funds generated from the shrine. The funds are being utilised for the functions and dinners of bureaucrats who visit the garrison city in their summer and winter vacations.”
Mr Asi accused the PR of misappropriating funds from the Railways Marriage Hall for the dinners and lunch of officials from head offices.
“All funds are being used without a proper system and the railway authorities failed to improve the sitting arrangements at the shrine,” he said.
When contacted, PR Divisional Superintendent Syed Munawar Shah said that there was no justification on the allegations of the union leaders about the embezzlement of funds generated from the shrine.
“The funds are utilised for the welfare of retired employees, widows and marriage of orphan girls. The railway provides money to those ailing employees who cannot afford their treatment for hepatitis, heart attacks and other serious ailments,” he said.
He added that the railways had also established a computer laboratory for boys and girls schools of PR and improved the condition of the industrial home where girls and women of railway employees were being taught stitching and other arts.
“The money to deserving people is given via cheques co-signed by the Railways Divisional Auditor and Railways Personal Officer. It is not spent on other workers but only railways employees,” he defended himself vehemently.