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Ambitious Plans for Development of Ajmer Dargah

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There are plans to set up an educational complex, rose-water plant from flowers offered at the Dargah and augment water supply for pilgrims.

Special report by 
Abdul Bari Masoud

Ajmer: Taking an inspiration from the Khawja Bandanawaz Gesudaraz Dargah’s developmental and educational activity, the Dargah Committee Khawja Sahab of Ajmer has unveiled an ambitious plan for development and beautification of Dargah Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti complex. Besides, providing basic amenities to Zaireens (pilgrims), the plan aims to enhance Dargah’s resources and educational activities.  
Briefing about the nitty-gritty of development plan, Dargah Committee chairman   Mohamed Obaidullah Sharieff told the Islamic Voice that Dargah has vast properties but no benefits were accruing to the Dargah.  “Under the plan, we intend to establish Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Educational Complex that will impart job oriented technical education, especially to Minority communities in the field of Engineering, Pharmacy and Computers, he said. The oldest seminary Darul Uloom Moinia Usmaniya Dargah Sharif is also being improved to provide systemic classrooms and hostel for scholars.
One of the biggest problems that pilgrims are facing is lack of basic amenities including shortage of toilets. The committee has built a block where 35 toilets have been erected and 55 others are under construction and marked an area for construction of 100 more toilets. On the beautification plan, he said renovation of flooring, gates of the Dragah will be done as it consisted of several white marble buildings and open space will be shaded.
The congestion and jams are also worrisome problems as the Dargha is situated at the foot of the Taragarh hill. The adjacent areas are densely populated and it is estimated that nearly 50,000 persons were living in a square kilometer area. In the past, attempts were made to de-congest the area but political intervention came in the way as most of the shops situated between the main Dargah gate to Delhi gate belong to Sindhi migrants who settled in the area after Partition.  The city receives 6,500 to 8,000 visitors on an average day. And during the Urs time, the number mounts to even a lakh people a day. The gates of the Dargah complex are narrow resulting in huge jams. The committee’s plan includes widening of the gates. However, the work will start after the Urs due in May this year. The road from Kayad to Dargah will be broadened and arrangements for proper drainage, traffic and other facilities will also be made according to the development plan.
A large number of women come here but there is no arrangement for them to offer prayers. The Committee will utilize the roofs of the Hujare (rooms) in front of the ‘Asthana’ (shrine) for women pilgrims to offer prayers. “We are making arrangement on the roofs where around 4,000 women can offer prayers at a time,” said Obaidullah Sharieff.
Water scarcity becomes acute during the time of annual Urs. For solving this perennial problem, the committee has taken up Jhalra Reservoir project aimed at mitigating the gap between the demand and supply of water to the tune of 17 crores litres per annum. The water actually available to Dargah Committee from Public Health Engineering Department is of the order of 23 lakh litres. Around 6,000 square feet area of Jhalra was scientifically excavated and cleaned up to 22 feet depth. During this operation, apart from removal of garbage and debris from the bottom of this reservoir the openings / passes which had got clogged over the years were cleared and flow was made possible.  As a result, the Committee is getting fresh water to the tune of 71 lakh litres. The water level of reservoir as on date is 42 feet with the waterspread area being around 5,000 square feet.
The Committee has also launched ‘Flowers of Mazar Sharif’ project with an object to utilize these flowers with required sanctity and economy. A team of experts under the leadership of Dr. Hamida Abdi, Advisor, Ministry of Technology and Science has conducted the survey and confirmed the technical feasibility of the project. Sharieff said the flowers are presently dumped into a well on which the Committee is spending Rs. 1.5 lakh per annum.  Arq-e-Gulab (rose water) shall be extracted from the flowers which are now dumped into well and there could also be Agarbatti Production from the material available after extraction of the rose water.
The left-over material after the above two process can be converted into manure. 
The project is likely to enhance substantial income to the Dargah Committee.
Dargah Sharif has 395 properties including 163 shops, 98 plots and 14 houses. Out of this 72 are under litigations whereas 67 are lying vacant for future development. There are 21 pieces of agriculture land measuring 18.5 hectares.  Sharieff informed that the Committee intends  to develop two of its properties situated at Sabzi Mandi and Sarai Chaman Chisty places in the city. One is being developed as a mall and other one as a residential complex and each project need Rs. 18 corers. He said the Committee has approached the newly formed National Waqf Development Corporation (NAWADCO) for funding which has accepted the proposals. He said it will be the first project of NAWADCO. The committee has a fixed deposit of Rs. 6.5 crores and its annual income is around Rs. 7 crores. He said all the projects will cost around Rs. 100 crores. 
However, the major sources for Dargah’s income is through offerings dropped into the Badi Degh (big cauldron) and Choti Degh (small cauldron) situated in the inner vicinity of the Dragah.  Both deghs fetch around Rs. 15 crores annually.  A protracted legal battle has been going on between the Khuddams (service providers) and the Committee over the ownership of Deghs. While talking toIslamic Voice, Anjuman Khuddams’ general secretary Abdul Wahid Chisty said it is the right of Khuddams to take all ‘nazaranas’ (offerings) of the Degh. He told that the Anjuman puts both degh on auction for a period of three years with a base-price of Rs. 2 to 3 crores.  Anjuman also runs a school and hospital and provides scholarship to needy students. When this correspondent asked as to why it did not establish professional institutes like the Gulbarga Dargah has done, Chisty said: “‘the Partition of the country had made adverse affect here, and it was a question of survival for many years to us.”  
Union Minister for Minority Affairs K. Rahman Khan visited Ajmer on February 26 to see the Dragah development plan.  On the occasion, he was also briefed about the Ajmer Development Authority’s separate Dargah development programme by its officials. It was a plan approved by the Rajasthan Chief Minister Funds.  However, the minister was shocked to see that the Authority had diverted major funds to other works not related to Dargah development.  Expressing displeasure over the projects being carried out by the Authority, he asked the official to review it. He also asked as to why the officials not consulted the Dargah Committee in this regard.  The CM has sanctioned Rs. 59-66 crores in the year of 2012-2013 for the development of Dragah area but most of the budget was spent on building roads in the outer periphery of Dargah which had nothing to do with the access to Dargah.   When this correspondent questioned about the diversion of funds, the Ajmer Development Authority’s chief Engineer M. K. Mathur who prepared the project, said that there is resistance for the de-congestion plan. He claimed that Authority had consulted all stake-holders before finalizing the project. However, Khuddams and athe Dargah Committee refuted his claim saying it had only shown the project to them.  Rahman Khan has directed the Authority that priority should be given to works which are directly related with convenience of people visiting the shrine.  He also informed that under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) Rs. 308 crore have been sanctioned for the Ajmer.    
The new nine-member Dargah committee constituted last year under chairmanship of Obiadullah Sharieff, is a Service-providing Agency and it is making all efforts to improve further the services to the pilgrims in close association with the different agencies.