| The Bhaderwah jail
Srinagar, Nov. 11: A picturesque fort jail that once housed Sheikh Abdullah and has been home to dreaded militants in recent years is being turned into a heritage hotspot.
The barracks at Jammu and Kashmir’s Bhaderwah jail will give way to parks and a museum. The historic fort, crumbling for several decades, will be renovated.
Efforts to turn the prison into an idyllic tourist centre were made in the past, too, but work on the plan was speeded up recently on the initiative of chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who represents Bhaderwah in the Assembly.
“We have already shifted 68 prisoners to other prisons. We are in the process of vacating the administrative section, which will take a few more days,” director-general (prisons) Rajinder Tickoo told The Telegraph.
Saurav Bhagat, deputy commissioner of Doda, of which Bhaderwah is a part, said Rs 1 crore had been set aside for the initial project but he estimated the total cost at Rs 6 crore.
The Archaeological Survey of India and the state will carry out the job.
“We have sought the expertise of town planners from Jammu and elsewhere. We want to restore the fort’s pristine glory. Priceless artefacts from Doda, now with the government, will be displayed at the museum. We will also buy artefacts from people,” Bhagat said. Several offers to develop five-star hotels and other tourist facilities in the fort have reached the government.
The fort was built in 1733 by Maharaja Phar Chand of the Naga clan and was converted into a jail in 1919 by the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh.
In recent years, prisoners at the jail, heavily fortified since militancy erupted in the late 1980s, have included militants from the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Earlier, the Dogra rulers sent Sheikh Abdullah to the jail several times. Other freedom fighters kept there included the Sheikh’s associates Sant Singh Teg and Pandit Kashyap Bandu.
The makeover decision comes months after the state unveiled a Rs 20-crore project to develop Bhaderwah, 350km from Srinagar, as a “gateway to tourism in Kashmir’’.
Bhaderwah’s beautiful hills, similar to those in the Valley, have earned it the epithet of “Chhota Kashmir”. Its location, at the conjunction of Himachal Pradesh, Pathankot and the Valley, make it an ideal tourist destination.
But the plan has ruffled some feathers, too. Many in the town who earned their livelihood — suppliers and small businessmen — from the jail fear the shift will hit their income.