By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 2 Dec: The decision of the Uttarakhand Government to constitute a shrine board in the state may have been well intended but it is proving to be a major headache for it. Two developments in this respect are sufficient to prove that government is going to face further challenges in fulfilling its objective to constitute a shrine board. One is the resignation of Vice Chairperson of the Char Dham Vikas Parishad, Acharya Shiv Prasad Mamgain, and the other development is the strong opposition to the constitution of the board by the Teerth Purohits from across the state. Besides this, they have also announced that they would go to the election bound Jharkhand and “expose” the BJP. They have declared that more than one thousand teerth purohits from across the state would go to Jharkhand for this purpose. They also announced that they would sit in dharna against the decision in Dehradun on 4 December on the first day of the winter session of the state assembly.
This government seems to be in the habit of facing public embarrassment and then, ultimately, going back on its decisions because of pressures from various quarters. It may be recalled that the government recently took back its decision to hike the fee for Ayurvedic Medical Colleges after the students agitated for more than 50 days. The government had earlier refused to budge despite a stay on its decision by the Uttarakhand High Court and only after the news made national headlines for several days that it ultimately bowed down to the students’ demand. In the present case, it is clear that the priests are not going to give up their stir any time soon. Yesterday, too, they held protests in Rudraprayag against the government.
While the government is currently claiming that the decision to constitute the Shrine Board will ensure better development and maintenance of the temples in the state, particularly the Char Dham temples, there can be no denying the fact that following the constitution of the Shrine Board, the government control over the temples would be total! Hence, the Teerth Purohits are opposing the move.
The Teerth Purohits have traditionally managed the temples in the state and presently they get to share a major bounty of the donations received at the temples. If the Shrine Board is constituted, the donations will totally belong to the Government and it would most probably be managed by some bureaucrat instead of a political person or independent Teerth Purohits. It is also almost certain that the Char Dham Vikas Parishad would be replaced by the Board. The Char Dham Vikas Parishad is also a government body managing the temples but, apart from the politicians and the CEO, Teerth Purohits too have participation in it. While the Char Dham Vikas Parishad had control over a fewer number of temples (46 in all), the proposed act of the Shrine Board has included not only the Char Dham temples but 51 affiliated temples. The proposed act seeks to replace the Badri Kedar Mandir Samiti Act of 1935. According to Religious Affairs and Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj, the Act has already outlived its relevance and therefore a new umbrella act is necessary. The priests have taken it as an attack on their traditional rights in the temples. They are concerned about their future and claim that they may lose their livelihood and security as a result. They also claim that the new proposed act is also bound to interfere in the Puja rituals and internal management of the temples. They have also alleged that the government wished to commercialise the operations of the temples and asserted that they will not allow this to happen. They have demanded that the priests should be allowed to retain their positions and rights in the temples.
Meanwhile, Shiv Prasad Mamgain has not only resigned from his post but has expressed solidarity and support for the priests. He also has met the CM to put forward the demands of the priests. It may be recalled that Mamgain had been opposing the constitution of the Shrine Board ever since the proposal came to light. The CM had yesterday claimed that the rights of the priests of these temples would remain unaffected by the constitution of the Shrine Board. However, the priests are not in a mood to relent and sources said that they would soon intensify their stir against the decision of the shrine board. If the Police uses force against the purohits in Dehradun on 4 December in order to prevent them from marching towards the state Vidhan Sabha, then the issue may escalate further