Government withdraws controversial Guthi Bill

Kathmandu, June 25

The government today formally withdrew the controversial Guthi Bill from the Federal Parliament following complaints that the proposed legislation was aimed at nationalising properties of guthis and helping ‘mafia’ to grab land.

The bill was withdrawn upon request made by Minister of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumari Aryal. Her request was unanimously endorsed by the Upper House, where the bill was registered on April 30. “The government has taken back the bill in response  to people’s request,” Minister Aryal said.

The bill sparked mass protests in Kathmandu valley with demonstrators saying the bill favoured the land mafia and undermined efforts made by guthis to preserve culture and tradition.

But Minister Aryal defended the bill’s content stating, “It was drafted with good intentions and to conserve heritage, culture and tradition. But attempts were made to mislead and provoke the people and spoil the peaceful environment.”

This is the first time the incumbent government has withdrawn a bill registered in the Parliament.

“We are in favour of protecting guthis that perform religious rituals and preserve culture, tradition and family values,” she said. “But we also need to understand that problems facing guthis in Kathmandu valley and outside are entirely different.”

Guthis are trusts, which have been present in Nepal since the Licchavi era. Many of these trusts own large plots of donated land. These plots are generally leased or used by farmers of a community to raise crops. The revenue generated from the use of land is spent on conducting religious ceremonies, renovating temples and heritage sites, and preserving culture and tradition.

According to Guthi Sansthan, raj guthis have an estimated 66,000 bigha land in the Tarai, and around 561,000 ropani land in the hills.

There are around 2,335 registered raj guthis. Although private guthis are not registered with the Sansthan, it estimates their number to be in excess of 5,000.

Many say the passage of the controversial bill would have eased the process of transferring ownership of these land plots to private citizens at minimal price.

Many were also miffed at the bill’s provision to bring all private, public and raj guthis under the proposed Guthi Authority, ending the role of existing trustees. They were also against the bill as it paved the way to convert private guthis into public guthis and gave sweeping power to chief trustees (mathadheesh and pujaris).

Under pressure from several quarters, the government on June 18 had announced its decision to pull back the bill.