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Guthi Bill protests in Nepal

Guthi Bill protests in Nepal

Tag: GS 2 || International Relations || India & it’s Neighbours || Nepal

Why in news?

  • Nepal’s Communist government formally withdrew the controversial Guthi bill from the National Assembly following weeks-long intense protest by the ethnic Newar community which feared that it could jeopardise Sanatan Hindu tradition.

Issue

  • Following the entry of the Guthi (Trust) Bill in the National Assembly, members of Kathmandu Valley’s Newar community have consistently been hitting the streets against it.
    • They are pressing the government to withdraw or revise the Bill, accusing the latter of trying to nationalise all Guthis, both public and private by bringing all religious sites under a powerful commission.
  • However, the government is defending the Bill stating that it has been brought not to control the Guthis and their functioning but to regulate them.

What is a guthi?

  • Guthis are socio-economic institutions that fund their obligations from incomes off of cultivated or leased land as assets. Guthis fulfil religious public services and social roles, and could either involve members from a common lineage, or several.
  • The origin of guthis can be traced back to fifth century Nepal.
  • They can arguably be considered the country’s first land pooling system, where the community tilled endowed land to generate revenue, which would then be mobilised to maintain temples, public shelters or water sprouts, or organise chariot processions and religious performance art.
  • Guthis also provided fellowships for the arts and various other professions.

How the Guthi Sansthan was created?

  • In 1964, the government set up a corporation—the Guthi Sansthan—to nationalise all guthi land. There was little opposition then, as public unrest those days was rare and easily suppressed.
  • With all the endowed land that the government had nationalised, the Sansthan would generate revenue by leasing land out to individuals and companies or by building business complexes to rent.
  • The income would go towards partially funding rituals and festivals.
  • Today, the Sansthan currently oversees 1.45 million ropanis of land across the country with some 2,335 public guthis incorporated under it. The numbers are only expected to grow once the Survey Department prepares its final report.

What are the problems with the Guthi Bill?

  • The Guthi Bill, which is currently with the Upper House, proposes repressive provisions that would –
    • nationalise both private and public guthis,
    • regulate all religious sites, and
    • replace the Sansthan with a powerful authority.
  • The Newar community sees this as the final straw in the systematic erosion of indigenous Newar culture and rights by the state.
  • According to trustees, the bill violates the constitutional rights of citizens as Article 26 (2) of the constitution says that every religious denomination shall have the right to operate and protect its religious sites and religious guthi.
  • Clause 22 deprives the citizens of their basic human right to freely create socio-cultural groups.
  • People in the Kathmandu Valley are primarily concerned to the Clause 23 and 24.
    • Clauses 23 and 24 of the Guthi Bill are riddled with contesting and ambiguous provisions that will allow the proposed authority to take over all rights and responsibilities of the guthi, including all trustee rights.
    • The bill would take precedence over all other rights, documents and past agreements, even court orders.
  • Clause 23 has a provision to convert the properties of public and private guthis into the raj guthi.
  • Clause 24 intends to terminate all the rights of the trustee of the guthi, which were obtained through various orders, letters and documents, over the temples and religious sites.
    • These heritages will be operated and managed by the government-proposed powerful National Trust Authority.
  • Section 4 (6) of the bill also proposes nationalising and regulating all private guthis, which trustees say is insensitive and in utter disregard of the different kinds of guthis and their functions in Newar society.
  • Private guthis are exclusively for family members who share the same lineage and outsiders are barred from the guthi’s rituals.

Problem with nationalization

  • People fear the Guthi authority will wipe out the cultural and religious heritage as it will become no more than a recruitment ground for party cadres who have little or no attachment to the local culture.
  • A fear that the government wants to usurp the land.
  • Selling of land to corrupt officials/real estate companies.
  • Bureaucracy, red tape.

Mains question

  • What is the controversy surrounding the Guthi bill introduced in Nepal parliament? Illustrate with similar examples from India.