The Uttarakhand government has decided to withdraw the controversial Devasthanam Act which was enacted two years back by the Trivendra Singh Rawat government. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on Tuesday said the government decided after going through the recommendations of an expert committee.
“We have decided to withdraw the (Devasthanam) Act. Further will discuss with all the groups and will implement what is best for Uttarakhand,” Dhami said. The expert committee headed by the former Rajya Sabha MP Manohar Kant Dhyani in its report to the CM recommended withdrawal of the act. Later a ministerial sub-committee also made a similar suggestion.
The Devasthanam Board Act was introduced by the Trivendra Rawat government in 2019 with an idea to ‘manage’ 51 temples across the State including the revered four shrines – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamnotri and Gangotri. The priests fearing encroachment over their traditional and religious rights strongly protested against the Board. The Board gives many rights to its chief executive officer, an IAS officer. One such right is to expel a priest if found involved in ‘nefarious activities. The priests were unhappy with the way the Act was introduced before consulting stakeholders. They complained the Devasthanam Board was nothing but an attempt to ‘control’ temples that had been following a system introduced by ancient seers. For instance, it is believed Kedarnath temple, one among the 12 Jyotirlingas established somewhere in the 8th Century by Adi Shankaracharya. Right-wing groups, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swami had been against it. “The govt better withdraw or there will be hell to pay for us in BJP (sic),” tweeted Swami Tuesday morning. The senior BJP leader had dragged the Trivendra government to the High Court though he lost.
What It Means For Regional Politics
Ahead of the Assembly polls, BJP internal reports indicated a huge loss for the party particularly in the Garhwal hills. The priests hold influence in 15-18 Assembly seats. The principal opposition party Congress intending to reap dividends on this issue has promised that it will withdraw Act if voted to power. However, with the latest move, CM Dhami outdid the opposition.
The BJP government took a decision after several consultations. The priests met prominent leaders across the political sphere to press for a withdrawal of the Act. Sometime back Rajya Sabha member and BJP’s national media in-charge Anil Baluni was approached who assured priests that the party will soon reach a final decision.
The Congress poster boy Harish Rawat termed it as an “election motivated move”. The political analysts say the move to withdraw the Act might help the ruling BJP to neutralise opposition.
Interestingly, the brainchild behind Act, former CM Trivendra Rawat seems to be sidelined in the whole development. He had repeatedly advocated for the Act. Cabinet Minister Satpal Maharaj was also in support of the Devasthanam Board. However, he seems to have changed his stand.