People taking part in protest against Guthi Bill in Ason. Photo by: Keshab Thoakr
Main opposition party obstructs parliament, ruling party lawmakers also demand revision
KATHMANDU, June 11: A controversial bill on the management of lands belonging to Guthis (religious and social trusts) has drawn widespread criticism, with lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties demanding its withdrawal.
While lawmakers of the main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) obstructed the House of Representatives on Monday over the bill, ruling party lawmakers have also urged the government to hold consultations with stakeholders before endorsing it through parliament.
NC lawmakers also denounced the police manhandling and arrest of those protesting peacefully against the bill in the capital on Monday. The lawmakers sought clarifications from Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa at the outset of the parliamentary meeting. NC Chief Whip Bal Krishna Khand denounced the bill, saying it seeks to abolish Nepal's unique cultural practices.
Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara adjourned the House for 15 minute following obstruction by NC lawmakers. Mahara later decided to put off the meeting until 11 am, Tuesday.
NC Chief Whip Khand alleged that the government was bringing the bill to finish off the unique Guthi tradition that has existed in Nepal since time immemorial. He also criticized the government for infringing people's fundamental right to protest peacefully and using excessive force against the protestors.
Speaking at the meeting, ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Pampha Bhusal criticized the government for using excessive force and demanded the government withdraw the bill. She also urged the government to hold necessary consultations with stakeholders.
Although Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padhma Aryal assured parliament that the bill would in no way harm the religious and cultural practices, even lawmakers of the ruling parties were not convinced . Talking to journalists at parliament premises, ruling NCP lawmaker Agni Sapkota protested the manhandling and arrest of those protesting the Guthi Bill. He urged the government to proceed with the bill only after political consultations.
Police had used force and water cannon to disperse demonstrators who had gathered at Maitighar Mandala to protest the bill introduced by the land management ministry. The bill, which was registered at the National Assembly, proposes forming an 'Authority' to manage Guthi lands, which are currently managed by the Guthi Sansthan or Corporation.
Those protesting the bill have argued that if it is endorsed as proposed it will only serve the interests of the so-called land mafia. They have also maintained that the new law as proposed in the bill will turn public guthis (trusts) into a 'playground for politicians, government officials and influential people who wiish to embezzle guthi land'.
Lawmaker of ruling Samajbadi Party Nepal Baburam Bhattarai has also protested the Guthi Bill, arguing that it was against the spirit of the new constitution. While criticizing the government for using excessive force against peaceful protestors, Bhattarai alleged that the government was violating one constitutional provision after another.
Also speaking to journalists at parliament , Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) lawmaker Laxman Lal Karna argued that the government had introduced the bill against the spirit of the constitution. While criticizing the police for using excessive force against protestors, Karna warned that the bill would not be acceptable to them.Guthi supporters step up protests
Angered by police crackdown on their protests on Sunday, those opposing the Guthi Bill have stepped up their protest activities.
According to cultural heritage campaigner Ganapati Lal Shrestha, locals staged protests in the various inner localities of Kathmandu. “We have submitted a memorandum to lawmakers from Kathmandu Valley to exert pressure against the Guthi Bill. We are also making efforts to bring various organizations protesting against the bill under one umbrella,” he said.
Shrestha said they will organize massive protests in Valley if the bill is not withdrawn. “If the bill is endorsed as proposed, it will only serve the interests of the land mafia,” he said.