LAHORE - One way or the other, almost every visitor gets robbed at Data Darbar - the shrine of famous Sufi saint Hazrat Ali Bin Usman Al-Hajveri.

Tens of thousands of devotees from across the country visit the Lahore’s historic shrine daily. But they are virtually robbed by the food sellers, contractors, and mafias who in fact enjoy the administrative control of the shrine.

In addition to fleecers and fraudsters, the populous Data Darbar locality is among the worst crime-hit areas of the provincial metropolis.

Crimes like pick-pocketing, child abuse, and robberies are quite common around the holy site. Runaway children from all across the province prefer staying at the shrine because of free food and petty jobs.

Devotees from across the country visiting the shrine take sigh of relief when they pay homage to their spiritual leader buried here. About 40,000 to 50,000 pilgrims daily visit the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri widely known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, according to Data Darbar manager Mr Jahangir.

Due to poor administration of Auqaf department which is also custodian of the shrine, security, janitorial and administrative issues are not up to the mark.

When a devotee enters in the Darbar limits, he has to face swindlers, pickpockets and kidnappers roaming around the premises in guise of beggars, food sellers, addicts, and flower sellers.

Food (Lungar) sellers not only sell substandard food but also in lesser quantity than declared. A devotee, Muhammad Salman said, “I bought a Daigh of rice of 10 kg to distribute among the poor but when I checked, there was hardly 5 kg food in ‘Daigh’. The irony is that one cannot countercheck the weight at the Data Darbar.”

Another regular visitor told The Nation that some food sellers only receive money from the rich devotees to distribute food among the people but after distributing minor chunk of the food, they put the food again at their counter for sale.

Similarly, many devotees coming from far flung are deprived of their money through pickpocketing when they enter in the rushy area of the shrine.

Police say 106 cases of pickpocketing have been registered with Police Station Data Darbar since the start of this year; however, there was not even a single case of kidnapping of any male or female children.

“Rather we rescued children and sent them to Child Protection Bureau around the Darbar premises,” the area SHO said, further claiming that number of swindling and deception cases have also touched zero.

The station house officer added since CCTV cameras have been installed everywhere in Darbar premises, swindlers have shifted to other areas of the city like Lorry Adda and Railway station.

Another grave concern of Data Sahib devotees is overcharging by the contractors of Auqaf for shoes-keeping. The department has fixed Rs5 for each pair of shoes when a devotee goes inside the Darbar he has to put his shoes off and hand them over to the Darbar staff.

But in ‘normal’ practice, the contractor charges Rs100 to 150 per pair of shoes keeping in view the dressing and financial position of the devotee.

Jabbar Ahmad, a resident of Bahawalnagar, who was there with his family, complained to the Darbar manager that the shoes-keeping staff had charged Rs100 from his wife and also misbehaved with her.

The manager called the shoe-keeping staff and enquired about the issue. The matter was then ‘settled’ at the official rate.

To a question about punishment for overcharging by shoes contractor, the manager said: “We have displayed a board near the shoes counters inscribed with warning not to pay excess charges than Rs5.”

“We are also making announcements in this regard repeatedly but even then they don’t spare the people visiting the holy shrine,” the manager told The Nation.

He added that Auqaf department was thinking on these lines to finish the contract system, and shoe-keeping service will be free of cost in future.

However, the administration has no clear mechanism to check the overcharging, let alone taking any action against the violators.

According to the area police, only two cases of overcharging were registered against the shoe-keeping staff during past ten months.

Almost 40,000 to 50,000 people visit Data Darbar daily, and on Thursday and Friday more rush is witnessed. People from every school of thought like Sunni, Brailvi, Shia, Ahle Hadees and Ddeobandi, visit the shrine.

During Raiwind congregation, rush increase at Data Darbar. Similarly, Shia devotees visit Darbar during Muharram when they visit Bibi Pak Daman shrine, and Karbala Gamay Shah.