KATHMANDU, June 2: A bill tabled in the National Assembly (NA) by the government to manage land belonging to Guthis (religious/social trusts) has drawn flak for paving the way for legalizing the encroachment of Guthi lands.
Opposition lawmakers have registered amendments to the Bill to Amend and Integrate the Guthi Related Act, demanding revision of the preamble to the bill . The preamble to the bill states that the law aims at managing the different types of Guthis and also "ensuring the rights of farmers in possession of Guthi land on the basis of social justice".
Lawmakers of the Nepali Congress including Radheshyam Adhikari have claimed that the preamble is against the spirit of the constitutional . Article 290 of the constitution states that "parliament shall make laws concerning the rights of Guthis and farmers in possession of Guthi lands in a manner not prejudicial to the basic norms of the Guthi". The article further states that other provisions relating to Guthi lands will be as stated by the law.
“The bill is against the spirit of the constitution and kills the spirit of the Guthi, which has deep-rooted relations with our civilization, art, culture and religions,” said NC lawmaker Adhikari. According to Adhikari, the bill will pave way for legalizing the encroached of Guthi lands. “The preamble of the bill has clearly paved the way for ensuring the claim of encroachers to Guthi lands, which is a serious matter,” he added.
A joint amendment by Adhilari and two other NC lawmakers in the upper house Anita Devkota and Brinda Alemagar has demanded removal of the phrase 'farmers in possession of Guthi land' from the preamble to the bill.
According to the NC lawmakers, if the bill is endorsed in its present form the Sworgadwari Ashram in Pyuthan will lose over 1,000 bigaha of land encroached by human settlement. The Ashram has been struggling for long to recover 1,040 bigaha in the Deukhuri from nearly 22,000 people who have settled on the land.
Ashram patron Swami Hangsananda Giri had bought over 1,100 bigaha and donated it for the operation of the ashram in 1939. According to lawmaker Devkota, who represents Dang district, the ashram now has a mere 40 bigaha for its operations. “Out of over 1,100 bigaha of land, Sworgadwari Ashram now has merely 40 bigaha in its use now as most of the land was encroached over time,” said Devkota.
Locals occupying the land have for their part been claiming their right to the land. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims including those from India throng the historic Sworgadwari temple every year.
Most of the Guthis in Kathmandu Valley are also struggling to retain their lands against encroachment. “If the bill is endorsed in its current form all Guthis across the country may lose their lands,” he claimed. “Any attack on Guthi land is an attack on our civilization, art, culture and religion.”