Guthi Bill aims to preserve and promote religion, culture
Following the entry of the Guthi (Trust) Bill in the National Assembly, members of Kathmandu Valley’s Newar community have consistently been hitting the streets against it. They are pressing the government to withdraw or revise the Bill, accusing the latter of trying to nationalise all Guthis, both public and private by bringing all religious sites under a powerful commission. However, the government is defending the Bill stating that it has been brought not to control the Guthis and their functioning but to regulate them. The government has of late given a signal to revise it. Secretary at the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperative and Poverty Alleviation Gopinath Mainali, culture expert Dr. Govinda Tandan and land rights activist Jagat Deuja spoke in the weekly Gorkhapatra Sambad for and against the controversial Bill on Sunday. Excerpts:
Guthi falls under State government: Mainali
The Constitution of Nepal has ensured three-tier governments. The Constitution has categorically fixed rights, duties and jurisdictions of the governments. According to the Constitution, the management of the Guthi (Trust) falls under the jurisdiction of the state governments. The duty of the federal government is to formulate a federal law for the state governments to manage and regulate the Guthis in their respective states.
The Guthi Bill has been prepared under the leadership of Guthi Sansthan. It has been given a final touch after holding extensive discussions with the concerned stakeholders for their views and opinions. The proposed Bill contains most clauses and contents of the Guthi Act 2033 BS. The current Bill has a lot of provisions for preserving and promoting Sanatan religion, cultures and traditions of the country.
The claim that some clauses of the Bill are contradictory is not true. The Bill does not need to define farmer and tenant farmer because they have been defined in other laws and acts. The problems of Guthi should categorically not be interpreted separately linking them with the heritage-centric Kathmandu Valley’s Guthis and the land-centric Guthis outside the valley.
The clauses 23 and 24 of the Bill drew more criticism and scepticism. When we see the clauses separately, we will be confused. Therefore, the clauses of the Bill should be viewed and reviewed in totality. Many people questioned why the concept of an Authority has been introduced to replace the existence of Guthi. The provision of Authority can be replaced by another nomenclature. The categorisation of the Guthi has been proposed in the Bill with a good intension for the better result.
According to the Bill, the Guthis will be categorised on the basis of their income because the government has a good intention to financially support the economically weak Guthis. The Bill has another provision that permission from the government will be a must to construct new shrines and temples. The provision has been inserted in the Bill in line with the norm that any activity occurred within the country must be documented by the concerned government office. The allegation that the Bill has been introduced with an intention to control the Guthis is totally baseless. Indeed, it has been introduced to regulate the Guthis and their activities.
The Bill has just been tabled in the National Assembly. It will take a lot of time to be endorsed from the parliament. I hope, the sovereign parliament and parliamentarians will keep the religions, cultures and traditions of the country into their consideration before passing it.
If the people have any reservations over the Bill, the government might resolve them through talks and dialogue. The Bill has been tabled in the parliament for revision. There is no need to hit the streets if there are any grievance related to the contents of the Bill. It could be revised by recommending comments and suggestions to the concerned parliamentary committee.
Guthi is sustainable model : Tandan
There was positive news about Ghthi Bill in a newspaper before the publication of the draft. But I realised that there were many contradictory provisions. The government tried to create a new legal instrument on a critical subject without consulting with the key stakeholders. It presented the bill as the final document not as a proposal.
Guthi is not only about the land but also about the cultures and practices that sustained hundreds of years. The word ‘guthi’ means ‘group’ so it’s a collective sentiment. However, there are people connected with the Guthi land who have been cultivating the land for decades and centuries. The bill does not define these farmers or ‘mohi’.
It is unfortunate that Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota termed Guthi as ‘reminiscences of feudal practice’ which hurt people in and outside the Kathmandu Valley. Swargadwari Mahaprabhu bought land from the money he collected and made arrangement for the necessary expenditure of the Swargadwari Temple. Hundreds of farmers are living on that field and they are not ‘feudal lords’.
Guthi is a practice found nowhere in the world. It should be included in the world heritage sites since it’s a unique practice in the world and can be a model to preserve culture and social practices for other countries as well. It’s the only institution in the country which runs without government support in the country. It is a unique example of sustainable development.
Guthi land is not given by the government. It’s the land offered by people to the temples to support in their everyday operation from the income made from the land. In the past, there was the concept that the government must not take any income from the land under the temple guthi.
Guthi is an integral part of ‘Newar’ community, it is needed from birth to death. Their major concern is the end of ‘private guthi’ as proposed in the new Guthi Bill, 2019. There are many temples and cultural practices in the Kathmandu Valley that run with the support from both the ‘public’ and ‘private’ guthi such as Machchindranath Temple. We fear that the government would ultimately finish the public and private guthis and strengthen the state trust (Raj guthi). The bill tries to control the guthi while the government should only have proposed to regulate it.
The proposal to distribute the guthi-owned (tainathi) land to the tenants is wrong. Those people who had built home in the guthi land should be punished at first. We fear that the new law will end entire culture and religious practices which is the desire of the Western interest group. It demands registration of temples and stupas but not the church and mosques. It is also silent about providing the operation of various temples and cultural practices. Likewise, it does not have provision to punish and control the land-mafia. There are mediators, brokers and encroachers who are getting benefits form the guthi-owned land.
We don’t demand to exploit the farmers or deprive them from their rights as the land-tenants but the land-brokers and mafias must be punished. But the provision to provide half of the land to the farmers who are cultivating it and provide another half at a low price is ill-intentioned. Similarly, another proposal to run the temples on the basis of competition is also objectionable. Are the cultural heritages some form of manufacturing industry from where the government want to collect revenue? The heritage should be categorised as per their historical, cultural and religious importance.
I suggest the government to form a National Guthi Commission, including the guthi-owners, tenants and other stakeholders, and the latter should formulate a new draft of the Guthi Act.
There are more rumours than facts: Deuja
Guthi practices have a history of more than one and a half millennia. Outside the Kathmandu Valley, the guthi is mostly related to the land. The Guthi (Trust) Act- 2033 had a provision to sell out the guthi-land through the auction but the new bill does not have such provision instead it has proposed to use the land for cultural development and open spaces. It has also a provision to pull down home or other physical structure that have or may have adverse impact on the heritages.
Some critics have been alleging that the new act will give away the guthi-land to the farmers, which is not true. It has curtailed the rights of the farmers. It proposed to provide the land to the farmers if they have any document that promises to provide them the land by 1998 but no farmer has such document so there is no chance of creating new tenants in the guthi-land. Therefore, I think instead of the trustees, the farmers should have begun the protests.
Farmers who were weak and had no political connections could not get the land registered to their name but those near to the political power have already brought the land in their names. The people who are saying that registering the land in the name of the farmers is not acceptable should know that there was a practice in the past to privatise the land in the name of the tenants with the payment of the 25 per cent price of the land.
People in the Kathmandu Valley are primarily concerned to the Clause 23 and 24. Clause 23 has a provision to convert the properties of public and private guthis into the raj guthi. Clause 24 intends to terminate all the rights of the trustee of the guthi, which were obtained through various orders, letters and documents, over the temples and religious sites. These heritages will be operated and managed by the government-proposed powerful National Trust Authority. The Clause 24 should be annulled. Apart from about half a dozen new provisions, the new bill is the continuation of the Guthi Act 2033.
Guthi Sansthan has worked for about two years while preparing the draft of the bill but never consulted with the key stakeholders. A meeting point should be found to address the demand of the guthiyar and farmers. People are saying that the bill can end the century-long traditions. There are more rumours than the facts. Most of the land of the guthi in Kathmandu has already been distributed or encroached. Hundreds of ropani land of the Pashupatinath Temple and other religious sites has been lost.
Heritages like the Pashupatinath Temple should be managed in a new style. Some temples can be managed from the offerings of the devotees. So far as the preservation of the heritages and religious sites is concerned, the new bill has better provision for the conservation. However, in an effort to make it more detailed, the drafters of the law have made some technical mistakes which need to be ratified.