Fresh legal battles erupt over Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : The 17th century Pashupatinath temple that is also a Unesco-declared World Heritage Site is now tangled in fresh legal disputes with seven officials of the trust governing Nepal’s oldest Hindu shrine moving court over their “wrongful” sacking.

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The seven officials of the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust, which is now headed by the culture minister, filed separate writ petitions in the Supreme Court Friday, challenging their dismissal two days ago.

The petitioners say they were employed 25 months ago and given a four-year tenure.

“However, we were summarily dismissed without any charges against us,” said Narottam Baidya, one of the seven. “It was unjust and illegal as well as a move to humiliate us.”

The fresh quarrel erupted with the five-month-old communist government of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal appointing a new culture minister this year.

The new minister, Khagendra Prasain, belongs to a fringe communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist.

The minister is alleged to have sought to dismiss all trust officials appointed by the previous government and replace them with his own followers.

One of the new appointees is reportedly the minister’s cousin.

The seven sacked officials have asked the apex court to stay the new appointments till the dispute is resolved.

Admitting the petitions, the apex court said it would hear the disputes on a priority basis. The hearing is likely to start Sunday.

The sacked officials have filed the writ petitions against the minister and the reconstituted trust.

Since the fall of King Gyanendra’s army-backed reign in 2006, the shrine, revered by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike from the sub-continent, has remained mired in a series of legal disputes, tarnishing the image of the republic’s government.

The Maoist government that succeeded the king sought to fire the Indian priests at the temple and hire their own men.

It led to violence inside the temple when a mob, led by the then Maoist culture minister, attacked the Indian priests.

An earlier government headed by the communists sought to open the treasury of the deity that, as per tradition, has remained locked for centuries.

That too was challenged in court by a Hindu activist, Bharat Jangam, and the court ordered status quo.

Like the temples in southern India that own fortunes accumulated from offerings made by devotees over centuries, the Nepal shrine too is believed to earn a substantial sum of money.

Some of the political tussles are believed to stem from bids to control the money.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])