Kathmandu’s Newars watch cautiously after government hints at reviving the Guthi BillAlthough officials said the new land bill will include suggestions from indigenous communities, local leaders say no one has reached out to them yet.
Six months after one of the largest ever turnouts in protest of Guthi Bill, there are fears that the offending provisions could be included in a new bill currently being drafted by the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation.
Last week, the Cabinet gave the go-ahead to the ministry to draft a new land bill that will include provisions regarding guthi management. On Thursday, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Baskota told reporters during a weekly press conference that the government had, in principle, agreed to draft the integrated bill on land management.
“The bill will also include provisions to manage guthis,” Baskota told reporters.
Earlier this summer, the government was forced to withdraw the Guthi Bill less than a month after it was registered at the National Assembly after it drew immense criticism from Kathmandu Valley locals who subsequently took to the streets to oppose the bill.
Opponents of the Guthi Bill say it had proposed repressive provisions that would nationalise both private and public trusts, regulate all religious sites, and replace the Guthi Sansthan, the body that currently oversees guthis, with a powerful commission.
After the bill was proposed, members of the Newar community in Kathmandu Valley were among its most vocal critics, arguing that the bill was the final straw in the systematic erosion of indigenous Newar culture and rights by the state.
This time around, the government has approached the issue with caution, consulting with the indigenous Newar community.
Officials at the ministry told the Post that they plan to hold “a grand interaction” with all stakeholders in the next few days.
“The new bill will incorporate all the concerns that were raised by those who opposed it earlier,” said Janak Raj Joshi, joint secretary at the ministry. “We have already started consultations with them.”
However, Newar community members who took part in the June protests told the Post that they were not aware of any outreach from the government so far.
“We are meeting with some 13 different ethnic groups within the Newar community and those groups affiliated to different parties to discuss issues, including the Guthi Bill,” said Maila Babu Dyola, general secretary of Newa Dey Daboo, an umbrella organisation of all Newar communities of the country. “We were planning to hold a guthi conference but we didn’t think the government would come up with a new bill so early.”
After the government withdrew the controversial bill, Newa Dey Daboo had planned a conference to finalise issues that could be incorporated into a new Guthi Bill. Members said they hadn’t yet been able to hold a gathering because of logistical issues.
“We are going to revive the Rastriya Pahichan Samyukta Sangharsha Samiti following the government’s decision to draft a new bill related to guthis,” said Manish Shrestha, one of the protest leaders. The Samiti, which loosely translates to ‘national identity joint struggle committee’ was behind the protest programme in June, which was attended by several thousands from the Newar community.
Local leaders say they won’t allow government authorities to dictate policy this time as well.
“If our concerns are not properly addressed,” Dyola said, “we will have no option but to get out on the streets once again.”