UML obstructs House over Maoist MP’s allegation of corruption in Pashupati jalahari installationUML lawmakers ask the prime minister to present truth and seek an apology from Lekh Nath Dahal.
An allegation of corruption against the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government by a CPN (Maoist Centre) lawmaker led to the obstruction of the House of Representatives meeting on Friday. The meeting was supposed to conclude the discussions on the policies and programmes for the upcoming fiscal year.
While expressing his views on the policies and programmes, Maoist Centre lawmaker Lekh Nath Dahal had, on Wednesday, claimed that the Oli government was mired in corruption scandals. Counting the number of corruption cases reported during Oli’s administration, he claimed that brass was used for jalahari at the Pashupatinath temple instead of gold. Jalahari is the foundation on which the Shivalinga stands and from where the water and milk offered by devotees flow out.
No sooner had the House meeting commenced than the CPN-UML leaders objected to the statement and dared the Maoists to prove it. They said they would not allow the House to proceed unless the prime minister makes it clear whether or not gold was used for the jalahari.
“We cannot participate in the House proceedings unless there is clarity over the allegations,” Subas Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the UML, told the meeting. The UML said that the government has the instruments for investigation and legal action if there is corruption but it would not accept any baseless allegations.
Hit Raj Pande, the Moist Centre chief whip, said lawmakers have the right to ask questions. “We can conduct an investigation if needed,” he said. As the UML didn’t allow the House to function despite repeated requests from Speaker Devraj Ghimire, it was adjourned for 20 minutes first to find a meeting point.
The meeting was postponed three times before it was postponed until Saturday afternoon. Hours-long negotiations couldn’t find a meeting point as the leaders from three major parties stuck to their guns.
In the meetings the UML demanded that Dahal, the Maoist lawmaker, must apologise. “The UML wanted our lawmaker to apologise but we said the House is a sovereign place to exercise one’s freedom of expression. Any lawmaker has the right to ask questions and there is no need for apology,” Pande told the Post.
The UML leaders said they asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to present the truth about the jalahari to the House. And if the lawmaker’s statement was wrong, he should apologise, they demanded. “We won’t accept the defamation of our party and chairperson in the House. The prime minister must present the reality and if the allegation is baseless, which actually is, there must be an apology,” Padam Giri, the UML chief whip, told the Post.
The leaders have agreed to hold meetings to find a meeting point on Saturday before the House commences at 4 pm.
Despite criticism, the jalahari was on February 25, 2021 installed at the Pashupatinath temple following a special puja by then President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
The same day the Supreme Court had halted the process at the temple.
Then-prime minister Oli, after an hour-long special puja at the temple on January 25, 2021 had announced that the government would provide needed budget to the temple to install a new gold jalahari.
He instructed the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to disburse the amount.
A total of Rs800 million was spent on buying 103.755 kg gold that was supposedly used. However, the auditor general’s report also has suspected misappropriation in the project.
The report states that 96.822 kg gold was used in the foundation of shivalinga while 10.976 kg was said to be used in the rings to be used in the jalahari. The report raised questions over the gold said to have been used in the rings.
Two separate writ petitions filed against the government are sub judice in the Supreme Court. Narottam Baidya, former treasurer of the Pashupati Area Development Trust, and advocate Nikita Dhungana filed the petitions.
Both petitioners have named Oli, also the patron of the trust; Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal, then minister for culture, and Pradeep Dhakal, member secretary of the trust and Guthi Sansthan, as the defendants.
The petitioners have argued that the government’s decision goes against the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, 2013, which states that structures over 100 years old must be preserved in their original design.
The final hearing has been scheduled for September 25. "It is a clear case of corruption. Let's hope the court comes up with a rightful decision," Baidya told the Post. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority too is looking into the matter.