In order to set up the Ambaji Area Development and Pilgrimage Tourism Governance Authority, that will be empowered to acquire and develop the area around the renowned Ambaji temple complex in Banaskantha district of Gujarat, the state legislature unanimously passed the Ambaji Area Development and Pilgrimage Tourism Governance Bill, 2020, on Wednesday.
“The Ambaji temple is a very old one… With an ever increasing number of pilgrims from all over the state as well as the country coming here, the state government has felt an imminent need of developing the area,” stated Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel while tabling the Bill in the House. The Authority will be headquartered at Ambaji village which is on the border of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The new Authority, which will encompass a “notified area” comprising neighbouring six-seven villages, will be empowered to acquire any moveable and immoveable property including through proceedings under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. It can also execute a development plan or town planning scheme for the Pilgrimage Tourism development area. It can also remove encroachments, provide for civic amenities and collect fees or development charges.
“Ambaji is a small panchayat and does not have the ability to develop the area or provide facilities to pilgrims,” said Patel, reasoning why the Bill has been tabled. “No land will be acquired. No farms will be acquired. Only land that will come to the state government through the implementation of town planning schemes will be used to create facilities for tourism,” Patel said, adding that the creation of an Authority was needed to implement town planning schemes.
The Bill also states that the powers and functions of the existing Shri Arasuri Ambaji Mata Devasthan Trust will not be affected with respect to religious activities, maintenance and development of the temple complex and the administration of Trust funds including donations.
The Authority has been allowed to establish a fund called the “Ambaji Pilgrimage Tourism Authority Fund” that can receive money by way of grants, loans, advances, fees and development charges.
The Bill also gives “power of entry” to persons authorised by the Authority and carries some penal provisions. Unauthorised hawking or begging in the Pilgrimage Tourism Development area shall be punishable with imprisonment, for a term which may extend to one month, or fine of Rs 5,000. Persons who work in contravention of the provisions of a development plan may be punished with a fine which may extend to Rs 50,000. In case of continuing offence, Rs 5,000 per day will be imposed after conviction of the first offence. Moreover, if any person obstructs the entry of a person empowered by the Authority to enter upon any land or building, the person can be imprisoned for up to one year or fine of Rs 50,000 or with both.
Although Congress MLAs supported the Bill, some expressed their fears. “Why is it required to bring a Bill to provide amenities for a temple in a tribal area,” asked Congress MLA Anil Joshiyara, adding that he was not against development at the temple, but was worried about the fate of the tribals in the area.
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