Opposition obstructs House, protesting government’s use of force against Guthi Bill protesters

- Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

Jun 10, 2019-

Amid widespread criticism against the government’s attempt to amend the Guthi Bill and its use of massive force to contain demonstrators demanding revocation of the controversial bill, the Nepali Congress on Monday obstructed Parliament, demanding the Home Minister’s clarification on the issue.

At least six people were injured on Sunday when police used force to disperse conservationists and locals, primarily from the Newar community, who were protesting the Guthi Bill, which proposes transferring guthi land to private ownership and converting private guthis into public ones. Guthis are centuries-old Newar social organisations that collect funds, hold cultural programmes and maintain traditions.

The Nepali Congress, the primary opposition, said that the KP Sharma Oli administration had made a mockery of democracy by using force against peaceful locals who had raised genuine concerns. The party demanded that the government withdraw the “unnecessary” bill as it aims at attacking the culture and traditions of the country.

Taking special time in the House of Representatives, Congress Chief Whip Bal Krishna Khand said that his party condemns the use of force and demands clarification from Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa over Sunday’s incident.

“It is a constitutional right of the people to hold peaceful demonstrations. The attack on the protestors is an attack on their constitutional authority,” Khand said in Parliament.

Following Khand’s speech, Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara said that he had listened to their concerns and asked the opposition to take their seats. However, opposition lawmakers refused to comply.

“We won’t let the House function unless Thapa gives a proper explanation,” said Pushpa Bhusal, a Congress whip. The House of Representatives, which was scheduled to discuss the national budget, was adjourned for the day as Home Minister Thapa was not present in Parliament to provide a response.

The House is considered obstructed if even a single lawmaker stands from their seat.

The Guthi Bill, which is under consideration at the federal parliament, has drawn widespread criticism from different quarters who argue that, if endorsed, the bill will destroy the country’s centuries-old unique traditions.

Madhukar Upadhya, an environmentalist, said there has been a well-planned attack on the Valley's culture, starting with the withdrawal of support for Indra Jatra a few years ago. “It is an attack on several things including valley's identity,” he wrote on Twitter.

Guthis are traditional community entities that manage religious and cultural ceremonies while also supporting communities with the income earned through land and property holdings.

The bill was registered in the National Assembly in April last week. The Oli government has defended the bill saying it aims to fix anomalies existing in the sector.

According to the book Nepalma Guthiko Mahatwa Ra Upadeyata—The importance and usefulness of guthis in Nepal—published by the Nepal Guthi Samrakshan Pucha, there are 2,335 public Guthis in Nepal under the Guthi Sansthan, the government entity that oversees these trusts. These guthis collectively own 756,000 bighas—equivalent to over a thousand square kilometres—of land across the country.

Published: 11-06-2019 06:30

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