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Uttarakhand withdraws Char Dham Management Act after two-year protests

DEHRADUN, Dec 1: The Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act was withdrawn on Tuesday by the Uttarakhand Government following protests by priests and saints for the last two years. The Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board, which was set up in accordance with the Act, will be abolished. Like the farmers' laws, which were just repealed this week following a year-long agitation as the elections are round the corner, it was feared that the protests against the Devasthanam Management Act likewise would hamper the ruling party's prospects at the hustings. Uttarakhand, alongwith other States, will go to the polls early next year.

The legislation was made in 2019 by the BJP Government led by then Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. The Bill sought to bring the Char Dhams of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri and 49 other temples under the purview of a shrine board. The Bill was passed by the Assembly and came to be known as the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019. Subsequently, the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Board was also set up on January 15, 2020. Earlier, the Shri Badrinath-Shri Kedarnath Act, 1939, was in force.

The lacal priests, pandas and rawals who had been managing the donations and assets and administering these Char Dhams through local outfits found that the new legislation deprived them of their traditional rights and powers and the Government was usurping the administration through the new board, launched a protracted agitation demanding repeal of the Act. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supported the agitation.

The priests suspended the agitation when the new Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Kedarnath on November 5, promised them that the Government would consider their demand before November 30 as the committee report was awaited. On November 1, the priests had prevented Trivendra Singh Rawat from praying at the Kedarnath shrine and threatened to do the same with Modi.

In July, Dhami, when he became Chief Minister, had formed a five-member committee to look into the matter. The committee submitted its report last week and the State Government decided to repeal the Act.

Trivendra Singh Rawat lost the Chief Minister's post partly because of the widespread protest against the new Devasthanam Management Act. His successor Tirath Singh Rawat promised to review the law but soon he was replaced by the present Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, who now finally made the announcement of withdrawal of the Act on Tuesday.

The withdrawal needs to be approved by the Cabinet and a repeal done through another Bill in the Assembly.

Reacting to the withdrawal, Congress leader and former Chief Minister Harish Rawat said the decision was out of fear of losing votes in the upcoming Assembly election.

“Most of these provisions of this Act (Shri Badrinath-Shri Kedarnath Act, 1939) are no longer relevant in the present context. In view of this, the Uttarakhand Char Dham Shrine Management Bill is proposed. This Bill will thus prove to be a milestone for the rejuvenation of Shri Badrinath, Shri Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri and other famous temples…,” the statement of objects and reasons in the Uttarakhand Char Dham Shrine Management Bill had said.

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