Prostrating News came from Varanasi on Thursday added fuel to the fire and stirred the hornet’s nest that VMC Varanasi Municipal Corporation have decided to impose tax or prescribed fees on ‘Pandas’ or priests who perform rituals on the ghats of Kashi along with the registration of priests. VMC imposed taxes on booking platforms and for organizing events.
These are small amounts; the money will go into the maintenance of the ghats,” additional municipal commissioner Devi Dayal Verma said.
VMC also specified a fee of Rs 100 for registration of chowkis (platforms) for priests, Rs 200 to Rs 4,000 per day for social, religious and cultural activities and Rs 5,000 for events of longer duration (from 15 days to a year).
“Such a fee should not raise eyebrows in a secular country but squirming BJP leaders are unable to digest such a levy in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency”, The Telegraph
On Wednesday, VMC published a notification in local dailies introducing a bylaw for maintenance and conservation of ghats under its limits. In order to protect, maintain and conserve ghats of not only Kashi but also of River Varuna fees will be charged according to new guidelines 2020 of VMC within it’s limit.
Mentioning that the work would be done as per directives of National Green Tribunal, VMC said the bylaw is being introduced due to non-compliance of solid waste management and sanitation bylaw 2016.
The provisions are being introduced and have been specifically decalred for River Ganga for maintaining it’s cleanliness. VMC have decided to introduce another set of monetry collection through fine Rs 500 for washing cattles and human using soap, Rs 2100 for dumping garbage and discharging sewage by local companies, factories and people into River Ganga and Varuna.They declared Rs 50,000 for first time and Rs 20,000 for the second time discharging sewage into the sacred river.
Congress councilor Ramzan Ali by stating the rules said that “According to the section 540 of Uttar Pradesh Act of 1959, state government by law have the right to make rules but section 541 includes 49 sub-sections and in any section the word ‘Ghat’ have not been mentioned or specified”. So, according to above argument the provision by law is the violation of 1959’s Act.
Congress Metropolis President Raghuvendra Chaubey showed his condemnation on the fees collection from purohits of Kashi.
Samajwadi Metropolis President Vishnu Sharma, Samajwadi party’s Enlightenment Cell President Dr. Anand Prakash Tiwari strongly opposed the new guidelines by calling it a ‘Black Law’. He believed that Kashi is all about Shrine Priests or ‘Purohits’ so imposing taxes on them and for booking platforms or ‘chowkies’ is inappropriate and absurd. He criticised by calling it a big step towards commercialisation of Kashi.
Akhil Bharatiya Teerth Purohit Mahasabha and Kashi Teerth Purohit Mahasabha strongly opposed the VMC notification by terming it a bid to hit the traditions of the holy city.
Swami Jitendranand Saraswati of Ganga Mahasabha compared the fees being imposed with the jazia tax imposed on non-Muslims by Mughal rulers and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
Kashi Tiratha Purohit Sangha’s President Pandit Kanhaiya Tripathi ferociously responded and called it a government’s ‘Tughlaqi Farman’ and also specified that government should step back and reconsider it’s decision.
He added that since 1802 to 1950, government had collected no prescribed fees from Tirtha Purohits. Even during British colonialism, when English megistrate have made the registration fees mandatory then former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru not only pleased the case for Kashi’s Purohits but also won the case.
He added that this decision was an unexpected one from BJP government. And if the government still believes in the decision, we will challenge it in court.
Secretary of Subah-ae-Banaras Dr. Ratnesh Verma showed his concern by saying that government is putting literature-Art-Culture of Banaras on stake.
Renowned Critic Amitabh Bhattacharya raised question that several organisations from all around the world comes in Banaras and conduct events on ‘Pollution free Ganga’ so do they have to pay for such a noble cause as well?
Lawyers have also opposed the decision. At a meeting held at Central Bar’s Organisational Committee member Ajay Singh’s residence where Rajesh Gupta have said that Purohits are sitting on the Ghats according to Traditions so no rules can made to keep them under monetry criteria as it is Illogical and unprecedented. Pankaj Prakash Pandey, Banaras Bar’s Joint Secretary along with Ravi Prakash Shrivastava, Anjani Pathak were present.
Minister for tourism and religious affairs Neelkanth Tiwari intervened before the row could escalate and said, “The Panda Samaj should not be worried. No fee will be charged from them for performing rituals on ghats, but if any priest wants to get registered the facility is available.”
Tiwari also talked to divisional commissioner Deepak Agrawal and municipal commissioner Gaurang Rathi on the issue and said registration is not must for priests neither do they have to pay any fee.
Rathi said a meeting will be convened in a day or two with all stakeholders to clarify the issue.
Mridula Jaiswal, Mayor VMC also opposed the decision though she is from BJP yet she clearly stated the decision as inappropriate. BJP councilors have also opposed and showed their anger in the decision. Narsingh Das, leader of the BJP councillors, said: “We came to know about it today (Thursday). The people are already struggling on so many fronts because of Covid-19 and the lockdown. We will oppose this.”
Kashi has preserved the traditions, culture, beliefs and River Ganga for ages and will keep nurturing the civilisation for another ages to come. Our duty is keep Kashi the way it is, it’s sanctity lies in the hearts of the people of Kashi and especially Priests.