Conservationists, locals criticise plans to relocate cremation site from PashupatiOfficials at Pashupati Area Development Trust say the existing cremation ghats cannot handle the growing number of bodies.
Conservationists, locals and heritage activists have accused the Pashupati Area Development Trust of planning to relocate the cremation area from Aryaghat and Bhashmeshwar to elsewhere and warned that they would not tolerate such a move.
The Trust is planning relocation of the centuries-old Bagmati River-side cremation area that extends from the east to the south of the Pashupatinath temple as per a master plan, said Norottam Baidya, a former treasurer of the Trust who is currently an assembly member of the Bagmati Province.
“The plan was made in haste and is not acceptable in any way,” said Baidya, who is also a resident of the Pashupati area.
“If they want to relocate the cremation grounds from Pashupatinath to elsewhere, then they should also move the Pashupatinath Temple to the new location, because Lord Shiva and cremation grounds are inseparable,” exclaimed Baidya aggressively.
He said the Trust might have come up with the relocation idea due to the overwhelming number of bodies coming to Pashupati for cremation during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Earlier also the trust had made such plans. But, they should understand that this pandemic will not last for long and they should make separate cremation arrangements when the flow of the bodies is high,” said Baidya.
The Trust has come under controversy on several occasions in the past due to its unilateral decisions without consulting heritage experts and conservationists.
Most recently, in February, amid widespread criticism from local residents, heritage conservationists and priests, the Trust had replaced the silver Jalahari, a receptacle, at the base of the main Shivalinga inside the temple with a golden one. President Bidya Devi Bhandari herself had witnessed the installation of the 96kg golden receptacle a few hours after a Supreme Court order to stay the installation.
In 2019, the trust started the restoration of the earthquake-damaged Vishwaroop Temple using reinforced concrete and erected 12 pillars, but it was forced to stop the work after widespread criticism and protest by heritage activists and locals. Similarly, in December 2017, the trust drew criticism for using concrete to rebuild the Jayabageshwari temple. And just five months ago, it drew flak for demolishing one of the four Shivalayas in the Pashupati area, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“Now a master plan for the Pashupati area is being worked out under the chairmanship of Chandra Mani Adhikari, and the trust is secretly working to relocate the cremation grounds from Pashupati. This is utterly unwarranted,” said Baidya.
The government has allocated Rs 350 million for developing the master plan of the Pashupati Area Development Project by including it under the national pride projects.
When the Post contacted Pradeep Dhakal, the member-secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Trust, he indirectly indicated that they have a plan to relocate the cremation grounds from Pashupati.
“At present, a maximum of 30 bodies can be cremated per day at the cremation ghats at Pashupati, but during the peak of the pandemic over 200 bodies were brought for cremation. So we were compelled to cremate many bodies in the grounds away from the ghats,” said Dhakal. “That is why we are looking for alternative places to cremate bodies. But pyre cremation at Aryaghat will continue,” said Dhakal, whose four-year tenure as member secretary is ending in mid-August.
A report by the state-owned Rastriya Samachar Samiti quoting Dhakal has said that the Trust plans to relocate the cremation ghats except for the two at Bhashmeshwar on the bank of the Bagmati River to the east of the Pashupatinath Temple.
Kedar Man Bhandari, chairperson of Pashupatinath Sewak Sangh and one of the priests at the Pashupatinath temple, claimed that there is a huge corruption involved in the plan to move the cremation ghats.
“Dhakal’s term at the Trust is ending in two months, so he is not concerned about the plan that goes against the centuries-old cremation tradition at Pashupatinath. He doesn’t bother about people’s sentiments,” said Bhandari.
Bhandari said if the Trust makes such a decision then it would meet with a strong public backlash.
At present, there are 12 cremation ghats—two at Bramhanal and 10 at Bhashmeshwar along the bank of the Bagmati River. Besides these, there are two electric and one semi-electric crematoria.
Similarly, heritage activist Ganapati Lal Shrestha says the relocation plan is old, but the Trust had shelved it fearing a public backlash. “But now they are actively working to implement the plan showing the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse,” said Shrestha.
“The trust has done many things in secret without consulting the experts. If it relocates the cremation grounds from Pashupati then the Trust will have no ground to stand on,” added Shrestha.