Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act

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    In News

    • Recently, the Uttarakhand government announced the withdrawal of the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act.

    About

    • The Char Dham Devasthanam Board Act had sought to extend control over 51 Hindu shrines and had been opposed tooth and nail from seers and managements of the shrines. 
    • The move was done on the recommendation of the high-powered committee set up under Shri Manohar Kant Dhami.

    Image Courtesy: Maps of India 

    Char Dham Devasthanam Board Act

    • History: 
      • The Uttarakhand government in December 2019 — then led by Trivendra Singh Rawat– had tabled the Uttarakhand Char Dham Shrine Management Bill, 2019, in the state Assembly. 
    • Aim: 
      • The bill was aimed at bringing the Char Dham of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri and 49 other temples under the purview of a proposed shrine board. 
    • Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Board:
      • The bill was passed in the Assembly and became the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019. 
      • Under the same Act, the Trivendra government constituted the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Board on January 15, 2020. 
      • As per the Act, the Chief Minister is the chairman whereas the minister for religious affairs is the vice-chairman of the board. 
      • Two MLAs of Gangotri and Yamunotri are members on the board along with the Chief Secretary. A senior IAS officer is the Chief Executive Officer.
      • Under this board, there are 53 temples, including four shrines – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri – and other temples located around these shrines.
    • Board constituted for:
      • The shrine board was constituted as the highest governing body for the management of the temples with powers to frame policies, execute provisions of the Act, budget formulation and sanction expenditure, among others. 
      • The board was also empowered to give directions for the safe custody, prevention and management of funds, valuable securities, jewellery and properties vested in the temples.
    • Before the Act:
      • Before the constitution of the Board, the Shri Badrinath-Shri Kedarnath Act, 1939 was in place for the management of two shrines – Badrinath and Kedarnath – and Shri Badrinath- Shri Kedarnath Mandir Samiti for 45 temples. 
      • The Samiti was chaired by a government-appointed person whereas an official of all India service used to be the CEO.
      • Independent from the Government: 
        • All the decisions related to utilization of the donations, funds and development works in and around those 45 temples including Badrinath and Kedarnath were taken by that committee and the government did not intervene. 
        • But through the Devasthanam board, the government tried to take control over the financial and policy decisions.

    Significance of the Move

    • Stakeholders’ interests protected: 
      • The sentiments and interests of people, honour of priests and the dignity and respect of all stakeholders are kept intact.
    • Benefiting political agenda of ruling party: 
      • The move is intensely significant in terms of the State’s politics as the BJP was facing tremendous blowback and threat of protests against the Government led by its party in the State by Hindu religious groups of saints and seers and even the RSS-affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

    Problems in Project

    • Work without valid permission: 
      • Project work and felling of trees on different stretches, adding up to over 250 km, has been continuing illegally since 2017-18. 
      • A work order issued by the state Forest Department in September 2018 was not only post facto but also legally untenable. 
    • Misusing old clearances: 
      • Work started on stretches adding up to over 200 km on the basis of old forest clearances issued to the Border Roads Organisation during 2002-2012. 
      • This is illegal and defeats the regulatory purpose since the scope of work has changed drastically with “enormous hill cutting” undertaken. 
    • False Declaration: 
      • Tree felling, hill cutting and muck dumping on stretches adding up to over 200 km commenced by falsely declaring that these stretches did not fall in the Eco Sensitive Zones of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajaji National Park, Valley of Flowers National Park etc.
    • Work without seeking clearance: 
      • Work began on various stretches, adding up to at least 60 km, after withdrawing applications for forest clearance without furnishing reasons.
    • Violations of Supreme Court Directive: 
      • Work started on stretches adding up to at least 50 km, even though the state government said in an affidavit in April 2019 that stretches where work had not already begun would be subject to the direction of the SC.

    Chardham Project 

    • It is a flagship initiative of the Centre.
    • Funding:  the Rs 12,000-crore highway expansion project was envisaged in 2016.
    • Aim was to widen 889 km of hill roads to provide all-weather connectivity in the Char Dham circuit, covering Uttarakhand’s four major shrines
      • Badrinath, 
      • Kedarnath, 
      • Gangotri and 
      • Yamunotri
    • Tribute: Laying the foundation stone in December 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the project as a tribute to those who lost their lives during flash floods in the state.
    • Hidden agenda: While conceived primarily to facilitate the Char Dham yatras (pilgrimage) and to boost tourism, the project always had a strategic angle to it as the highways would facilitate troop movement to areas closer to the China border. Suddenly, this became the sole justification for building wider roads.

    Challenges

    • Speed versus stability:
      • The wider the road, the quicker the defence deployment and supplies. 
      • But widening a mountain highway, particularly on the young, still-unsettled Himalayas, runs the risk of leaving the slopes more unstable.
      • In fact, the HPC argued that “a disaster-resilient road is much more critical” than a wider road “prone to frequent blockages, landslides and recurring slope failures”, concluding that an intermediate width for Himalayan highways was more judicious even for the country’s defence needs.
    • Balancing of environmental needs and development is the need of the hour:
      • Three valleys in Pithoragarh situated close to the China border were cut off due to landslides for two months. It was pleaded by an NGO in the Court that the Army, as well as civilians, required a safe, reliable road and not one that remained blocked or got washed away periodically.

    Source: TH + IE