By Ravindra Saini
The Congress Government of Uttaranchal is planning to bring religious places and institutions of Hindus under its control. A bill to this effect is likely to come before the State Assembly soon. The bill, the Uttaranchal Public Religious Institution (Management and Development) Bill-2005, if passed, will empower the government to take over the historic akharas, ashrams, trusts and temples like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri and other sacred shrines. Now they are being managed by autonomous bodies and trusts. The Government wants the State bureaucrats, who are already pre-occupied in so many things, to manage the temples and religious institutions of Hindus in the State. The move has invited a sharp reaction from various Hindu organisations and religious leaders across the State. A copy of the proposed bill has already been circulated among political parties and MLAs of the State.
Uttaranchal is a land of ancient temples and lakhs of people across the country visit the historic temples throughout the year. According to Shri Vinod Nautiyal, former chairman of Shri Badrinath-Kedarnath Mandir Vikas Samiti, besides the historic temples of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, the State government proposes to take over the Shanidev temple of Khirshali, the entire area of Gomukh, Chandrabadri temple, Raghunath temple and Nagaraj temple of Semmukhem in Devprayag, Rajrajeshwari temple of Shrinagar, Neelkanth, Chandi Devi and Mansa Devi temples of Haridwar, Surkunda Devi and Kunjapuri Devi temples of Tehri, Mata Anusuya Devi, Rudranath and Kalpanath temples of Chamoli, Jwalpa Devi and Dhari Devi temples of Pauri, Hatiyali Devi temple of Rudraprayag, Poorna Devi, Jageshwardham, Kainchi Devi Mandir, Dronagiri temple and Baijnath temple of Kumaun region.
The Central government provides air ticket and other facilities to Haj pilgrims. But on the other hand the State government, under section 50 of the proposed bill with 74 sections, is planning to impose a tax on pilgrims and vehicles visiting religious places in Uttaranchal.
The four dhams are not in Uttaranchal, but the State government, through the proposed bill, intends to form a Chaar Dham Vikas Parishad to manage the temples. Not only this, the State government has already appointed a vice president for the Parishad, which is yet to be constituted and has also provided him with all facilities. According to Shri Nautiyal, several Hindu organisations have given a memorandum to the Chief Minister registering their protest against the move. Despite this the government is in the process to get the bill passed by the Assembly as early as possible.
The saints of Haridwar have vehemently opposed the proposed bill and have warned the State government of dire consequences if the move is not withdrawn. The Bharatiya Janata Party and Samajwadi Party are also equally critical of what they called the State government'sattempt ?to seize control of maths, akharas, ashrams and temples through the back door.?
Talking to Organiser in Dehradun, the State BJP President, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, said his party would fight against the bill tooth and nail. ?We will not allow the proceedings of the House if the government does not desist from attempts to get the bill passed,? he said. The BJP youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, organised demonstrations at several places and burnt effigies of Congress leaders in protest. Senior party leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi alleged that the bill was ?a brazen attempt? to interfere with the affairs of religious institutions.
Samajwadi Party workers also came out on the streets protesting against the Congress government'sbid to tighten its noose around religious institutions. The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad felt deeply hurt by the State government'smove. Mansa Devi Mandir Trust President and Akhara Parishad'sspokesperson Mahant Ramanand Puri while denouncing the bill said that the Congress government would have to pay a heavy price. He said the saints of the Akhara Parishad would soon meet to discuss the assault by the Congress on the religious sentiments of Hindus.