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Nepal government loses Pashupatinath battle

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s beleaguered communist government, facing an imminent threat of dissolution, received a fresh blow Sunday with the Supreme Court preventing it from tangling with the trust that administers the former Hindu kingdom’s revered Pashupatinath temple.

Judge Prakash Osti Sunday dismissed communist Culture Minister Khagendra Prasain’s bid to sack all seven officials of the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust amidst allegations of corruption and to appoint his own team, that included a cousin.

The 17th century temple, that is also a Unesco-declared World Heritage Site, became tangled in fresh legal disputes Friday with the seven sacked officials moving the apex court over their “wrongful” removal and seeking a stay order on the new appointments till the row was resolved.

The court Sunday gave its interim order on behalf of the sacked member secretary of the trust, Sushil Nahata, and its treasurer Narottam Baidya, asking the government to reinstate both till the final verdict came.

The cases of the remaining five officials are expected to be heard Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

It led to violence inside the temple when a mob, led by the then Maoist culture minister, attacked the temple’s 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, the Nepal shrine too is believed to earn a substantial sum of money.

Some of the political tussles are believed to be a bid to control the money.

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