Kathmandu, June 9
Riot police today dispersed people gathered in Maitighar Mandala to protest the Guthi Bill tabled at the National Assembly using batons and water cannon, injuring around a dozen demonstrators.
The general public, especially from the Newar community, has been demanding revision or withdrawal of the bill that stipulates provisions such as removing trustees from public guthis (trust), also called raj guthis, and transfer of guthi land to private ownership and converting private guthis into public guthis.
Those injured in police action were rushed to Norvic Hospital and Annapurna Neurological Hospital. They were discharged after treatment later in the day.
Police said they were compelled to use force after demonstrators went violent and obstructed traffic. Police also took four persons into custody and released them in the evening.
Demonstrators, who were dispersed by police from Maitighar Mandala, organised a corner meeting at Ason later. Scores of agitating locals also held a torch rally from Ason to Basantapur to protest against the bill. They have announced a phase-wise protest, including valley bandh, until the government withdraws the bill.
Guthis undertake religious ceremonies in temples and manage temples, sattals , patis, pauwas, stone spouts and other religious sites on the basis of money generated from thousands of hectares of land under the ownership of guthis. According to Guthi Sansthan, there are 2,335 public guthis, with 556 of them in Kathmandu valley alone. All these public guthis are regulated by Guthi Sansthan, the state-owned umbrella guthi organisation.
Public guthis are operated by guthiyars (trustees) appointed by the local stakeholders of temples or festivals with financial support from Guthi Sansthan. Guthi Sansthan owns around 1.45 million ropanis of land across the country. It generates revenue by leasing out land to individuals and businesspersons. Guthi Sansthan has also built business complexes on its own. It generates up to Rs 520 million a year from its immovable property, according to Guthi Sansthan.
People have taken a serious objection to the bill which they say will turn guthis into playground of political leaders, bureaucrats and influential people to recruit people they desire. Suman Sayami, one of the key organisers of today’s protest, said, “The government has brought the bill to wipe out our cultural and religious heritage. We’ll not accept the bill at any cost and if the government is adamant on passing the proposed law, it will face dire consequences.” Ganapatilal Shrestha, another activist, said, “Guthi culture, which has been successfully implemented for centuries, is a unique identity of our country. We are shocked by the government’s move to draft the bill without consulting any stakeholder. We demand that the government disclose under whose guidance this bill was brought.”
Minister of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padam Kumari Aryal had tabled the bill at the Upper House on April 29.
Expressing reservations against certain provisions stipulated in the bill, lawmakers from Nepali Congress have registered an amendment proposal in the National Assembly. They said the bill should propose constitution of the Guthi Authority in all provinces in the spirit of federalism.
A version of this article appears in print on June 10, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.