A controversial billion dollar Chinese project aimed at transforming Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Nepal, to a ‘Mecca for Buddhists’ claimed its first victim on Thursday.
Nepal’s culture secretary Mod Raj Dotel tendered his resignation to chief secretary Madhav Ghimire over differences with culture minister Khagendra Prasad Prasai on the US $ 3 billion project.
“I felt someone was trying to curtail my personal freedom through unnecessary pressure. So, I tendered my resignation,” the Republica quoted Dotel in a front page report on Friday.
Refusing to divulge details, the senior bureaucrat stated he was now “feeling absolute relief” and admitted mentioning differing opinions as reasons in his resignation letter.
Quoting a source, the report mentions that the minister had been pressuring Dotel to sign a final document that would have allowed the Chinese NGO involved in the project to start work.
Dotel is stated to have opposed the project citing national sovereignty and security. He also warned of serious ramifications if the project was given a go ahead without adequate homework.
Since the culture ministry is the sole agency responsible for development of Lumbini, Dotel’s signatures were needed to provide the project various facilities including land allocation.
“The deal was struck between two organizations keeping us in dark. We have no obligation to recognize it,” Dotel had told HT last week. On Friday, however, his phone was found switched off.
Last month, the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, a Chinese government backed NGO, signed a MoU in Beijing with UN Industrial Development Organisation, to develop Lumbini.
The project aimed at creating a ‘special development zone’ by building airports, convention centres and infrastructure network ran into controversy for failing to take the Nepal government on board.
Names of Nepal Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as co-chairman on the APECF board and former crown prince Paras Shah as member also raised eyebrows.
As Lumbini lies very close to the Indo-Nepal border, the project could be a security concern for India as well due to long-term presence of Chinese personnel in the area.
Lumbini is one of the most sacred sites for Buddhists all over the world and nearly 500,000 buddhists, as well as, other tourists visit the area every year.