The Trivendra Singh Rawat government tabled the Uttarakhand Char Dham Shrine Management Bill, 2019, in the state Assembly on Monday amid protests from Congress members inside the House and from priests and pandas of Badrinath shrine, who staged a demonstration outside the Vidhan Sabha.
The Bill aims to bring the Char Dham of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri and 49 other temples under the purview of a proposed shrine board. At present, the Shri Badrinath-Shri Kedarnath Act, 1939 is enforced for the management of those two shrines. “Most of these provisions of this Act are no longer relevant in the present context. In view of this, the Uttarakhand Char Dham Shrine Management Bill, is proposed. This Bill thus will provide to be a milestone for the rejuvenation of Shri Badrinath, Shri Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri and other famous temples…,” reads the statement of objects and reasons in the 2019 Bill.
According to the Bill, the shrine board shall be the highest governing body for the management of the temples, with powers to frame policies, make decisions to give effect to the provisions of this Act, of budget formulation and to sanction expenditure , among others. The board may also give directions for the safe custody, prevention and management of funds, valuable securities, jewellery and properties vested in the temples.
According to Bill, the CM will be the chairperson of the shrine board and if the CM is not a Hindu, he or she will nominate a senior minister from the council of ministers. The Minister in-charge of culture and religious matters shall be the vice-chairperson of the board, and if he or she is not a Hindu, then the CM shall nominate a member from the cabinet.
The Chief Secretary shall be ex-officio members of the board. A chief executive officer will also be appointed to exercise the powers and functions conferred upon, or entrusted to him/her, under this Act.
On Monday, Congress members, calling the government “dharma virodhi”, trooped into the well of the Assembly, leading to the repeated adjournment of the House during Question Hour. Leader of Opposition Indira Hridayesh demanded the government withdraw the Bill. “The government is trying to ruin religious establishments,” she said.
Outside the House, Congress MLA from Kedarnath Manoj Rawat said, “We know that the government will get the Bill passed in Assembly because of its majority. But we will stage protests across the state and the government will have to face defeat before the people. The government is eying the donations received in Char Dham.”
Meanwhile, people holding different responsibilities in the Char Dham temples came under the banner of the Char Dham Mahapanchayat Hakukdhari to raise voice against the Bill. Pandas, Dimris and others who run dharmshalas and shops at the Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines took out a march towards the Vidhan Sabha. When police stopped them, they staged a demonstration on the road.
“For several generations, we are doing service of pilgrims in Badrinath. Local people are running shops to provide facilities to pilgrims. Once the shrine board is formed, the government will get control of the entire area and will float tenders to run these shops. The government will be able to sell land and will also take control over donations. People will lose their jobs. The government is not clarifying the role of existing priests and pandas in the new shrine board,” said the mahapanchayat’s convener, Krishnakant Kautiyal.
Pandir Bhaskar Dimri of the Dimri Panchayat said the government tabled the draft Bill in the Vidhan Sabha without consulting stakeholders, and without taking local people in confidence. “The government has some hidden agenda with this Bill,” Dimri said.
The mahapanchayat has announced protest rallies in Uttarkhashi on December 18, in Srinagar on December 20 and an indefinite hunger strike outside the CM’s residence against the Bill.
State minister and government spokesperson Madan Kaushik said, “Meetings had been held with priests. Some priests were also sent to Vaishno Devi. Discussion with CM was also done. Rights of nobody will be affected.”