August 25, 1998
HARDWAR, Aug 24: First it was the landowners of Udham Singh Nagar, now it’s the sants of Hardwar. The issue is the same: the land ceiling laws in the proposed state of Uttaranchal.
The Akhada Parishad, an organisation of 11 akhadas (mutts of Hindu sants) in Hardwar, has written to the Prime Minister, President and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, urging them to exempt Hardwar from land ceiling laws as has been reportedly done in Udham Singh Nagar’s case.
The decision to raise the issue with the Government was taken at the Parishad’s meeting on August 13. Parishad president Mahant Shankar Bharti heads the Niranjani Akhada, which has about 300 acres, while Parishad secretary Mahant Govind Das owns the Bada Udasin Akhada, which has over 1,000 acres in its possession, in and around Hardwar.
Even Chhota Udasin Akhada and Mahanirvani Akhada are known to possess a considerable amount of property. Prominent ashrams like Jayram Ashram and Nirdhan Dham too reportedly own hundreds of acres.
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Theexisting land ceiling laws don’t apply to trusts but the akhadas fear that the laws may be changed to make smaller land holdings in a state where there is almost no cultivable land except in Hardwar and Udham Singh Nagar. BJP leaders are now trying to mollify the akhada heads. “Why do you have to protest publicly? Tell us and we will arrange a meeting with the Union Home Minister,” the sants were told.
The BJP leaders have reason to be worried — the sants are an important part of their political weaponry. Two-time BJP MLA from Hardwar, Acharya Jagdish Muni, who owns the palatial Satsang Mandal Ashram, fears persecution in the new state of Uttaranchal. “The new Government might impose wealth tax,” he says.
The battlelines meanwhile have been drawn over the decision to include Hardwar in Uttaranchal. While the BJP and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) are in favour of the Centre’s decision, the SP and the BSP are opposing it. The Congress has remained passive on the issue. “It’s a political moveintended to delay creation of Uttaranchal,” says Congress leader Rajesh Sharma.
“Why put Hardwar in Uttarakhand when it does not share anything with the hill region?” asks Samajwadi Party MLA Ambarish Kumar. SP district unit president Murli Manohar agrees: “Historically, geographically and linguistically, Hardwar is completely different from Uttarakhand.”
Senior BJP leader Ashok Tripathi counters by pointing out that Hardwar was part of the Tehri state during British rule. Hardwar city BJP unit general secretary Vinay Kumar adds: “It’s the base station for the char dham pilgrimage, comprising visits to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri all in Uttaranchal. Besides, a major part of the Kumbh Mela area falls in Rishikesh which is in Dehradun district.”
Leaders of the Hardwar Bachao Samiti, comprising mainly the SP and the BSP, swung into action immediately after the Centre’s announcement to include Hardwar in Uttaranchal. The bandh call given by the Samiti on August 5 evoked a moderateresponse in the city while people in small towns ignored the call.
The Samiti leaders have their reasons for launching the stir. Hill people are just three per cent of Hardwar’s population. Besides, Hardwar was never a part of Garhwal division; before being included in Saharanpur division three years ago, it was a part of Meerut division, claims Ambarish Kumar.
None of the three resolutions passed by the UP Assembly for creation of Uttarakhand — in 1991, 1994 and 1997 — included Hardwar in the proposed state. Also, none of the Uttarakhandi MLAs had moved any amendment in the Assembly to include Hardwar in the proposed state, he asserts.
How would the Uttaranchal Government, with an annual budget of Rs 500 crore, organise the Kumbh Mela, which entails an estimated expenditure of Rs 200 crore, the Samiti leaders ask.
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