KATHMANDU, June 20: As tens of thousands of people in Kathmandu Valley joined the protest rally against the Guthi Bill on Wednesday even after the government announced the withdrawal of the controversial piece of legislation, all eyes are now on the government: What will be its course of action to douse the anger that seems to be razing still.
The agitating protestors have said that they will continue with their protests in various forms as they are not persuaded that the government will withdraw the bill from parliament and formulate new laws through wide-ranging consultations with the stakeholders. “Today's was a rally to put the government on notice. We are not convinced that it will withdraw the bill from parliament and call for consultations with all stakeholders,” said Ganapati Lal Shrestha, a campaigner for the preservation of cultural heritage.
There seems apprehension among the locals with their centuries-old guthis that the government may use its majority in parliament to railroad the Bill through just as it did with the Medical Education Bill a few months ago. These apprehensions remain as the bill has only been put off “for the time being” and no decision has been taken to withdraw it from the National Assembly, where it was registered.
Addressing the protest rally at Maitighar Mandala, Coordinator of the Anti-Guthi Bill Struggle Committee Dr Mahesh Man Shrestha said the issue of Guthi should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation since it is a matter of culture and tradition, and not just of land. “Our protests will continue until the bill is withdrawn from parliament. We are compelled to take to the street as the government has made an attempt to seize lands belonging to the Newar community through a dubious bill,” he said.
The prime minister's press advisor, Kundan Aryal, said the issue has been resolved following the decision of the government to withdraw the bill. Although the government appears in a “wait and see” mood, senior leaders of the ruling party said they will hold consultations within the party and withdraw the bill from parliament at "an appropriate time”.
Should the government decide to withdraw the bill, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers will need to first write to the Parliament Secretariat to initiate the withdrawal process . A proposal to this effect has then to be tabled in the National Assembly by the minister concerned . Parliament then has to give its permission for this through a majority vote as the bill is already under discussion.
But it is more than just the withdrawal of a bill. This is an emotive issue. Statements from ministers including the prime minister that people in Kathmandu Valley were misled and incited against the Guthi Bill and that the Guthi system was a vestige of feudalism have hurt sentiments. Those who took part in Wednesday's protest said they want those in government to weigh the dignity of their positions while making public utterances.
Although most protestors have demanded the withdrawal of the bill, this will not solve all problems relating to Guthi property, agrees cultural heritage campaigner Shrestha. Huge amounts of guthi property, mainly land, is misused or embezzled by a limited number of individuals belonging to the guthis concerned.
Shrestha said they want the government to hold broad consultations with all stakeholders and experts and introduce new legislation in consensus. “We have seen how the government forced the controversial medical education bill through parliament. We do not want the same thing to happen to guthi-related legislation,” he said.