Char Dham Board warns Gangotri priests of legal action if they stop pilgrims from other states
The Char Dham Devasthanam Board has warned that legal action would be taken against the Gangotri temple’s priests for taking a unilateral decision not to allow pilgrims from other states to visit the shrine from July 29 to August 15 owing to a spike in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases across the country.
Ravinath Raman, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Board, said that the Gangotri priests took the decision on Tuesday to bar the pilgrims from other states.
Later, he directed the district magistrate (DM), Uttarkashi, under whose jurisdiction the shrine falls, to order the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), or a senior revenue official to hold a meeting with the priests and make them understand that their unilateral decision is illegal and action could be taken against them for their bid to bar pilgrims from visiting the venerated temple.
“The officials in Uttarkashi discussed the matter with the priests on Wednesday. They have assured the authorities concerned that they would withdraw their decision and instead make a plea before the state government,” Raman said.
He cited that the decision is illegal as per the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board Act.
Earlier on July 24, the Trivdendra Singh Rawat-led Uttarakhand government had decided to allow pilgrims from other states to visit Char Dham shrines, albeit with certain pre-condition amid the viral outbreak.
The guidelines include the pilgrims need to furnish a negative report of their reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test that was conducted 72 hours before entering the hill state.
In case, they don’t have a negative RT-PCR test report, then they will be
required to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine period after entering the state.
They will be allowed to proceed on pilgrimmage to Char Dham shrines upon completion of the quarantine period.
The priests have put up a barricade two kilometres ahead of the shrine from Wednesday (July 29), announcing its closure until August 15.
Deepak Semwal, secretary, Gangotri Dham Temple Committee, said contrary to the officials’ statement, they have not withdrawn their decision to close the temple until April 15, but have written to CM Rawat explaining their move.
The letter, sent through DM, Uttarkashi, has drawn the CM’s attention to the perceived risk from the viral infection and the dire need to keep the shrine closed until August 15 to get a sense of how the pandemic is playing out across the country.
“Around 15 priests of the shrine and a dozen office-bearers have made an impassioned plea to the CM. We want the pilgrims to visit the temple. However, the state government needs to understand that it is difficult to maintain social distancing, when pilgrims come from far-off places in the country and want to get close to the deity for a darshan,” Semwal said.
In June, the Gangotri shrine’s priests had also staged a sit-in protest outside the temple against the formation of the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board.
The priest community in the state has not accepted the formation of the Board and has been protesting against the move since last November.
They have alleged that the state government has set up the Board in a bid to marginalise them and ensure that the control rests with the authorities as far as temple-related issues are concerned.
On July 21, Uttarakhand high court (HC) had dismissed the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy against the state government’s takeover of the Char Dhams and 51 other shrines through the formation of the Board.
HC, however, ruled that the ownership of the temple properties would vest in Char Dham shrines and power of the Board would be confined only to the administration and management of the properties.
Last December, the Uttarakhand assembly had passed the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board Bill.
In January, Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya gave her assent for the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019.