Char Dham yatra
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
THE YATRA (Pilgrimage)
Char Dham Devasthanam Management
HC upholds law
Prashant Jha, July 22, 2020: The Times of India
The Uttarakhand high court dismissed two writ petitions which challenged the constitutional validity of the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act 2019 that brought 51 temples in the state, including the Char Dham shrines, under control of a state government-appointed board.
The bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe held that the Act does not violate the right to equality, religious freedom or right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs while citing examples of other temples such as Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Temple (J&K) and Shri Jagannath Temple (Odisha) that were administered by boards. The HC said the Act does not interfere with the religious activities of the priests.
The petitioners had challenged the Act passed by the Trivendra Rawat-led BJP government arguing that the Constitution guarantees devotees and priests the right to manage their own affairs. One of the petitions, by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, held that the Act violates Article 14 (right to equality), Article 25 (right to freedom of religion), Article 26 (right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs) as well as Article 31-A (right to hold and dispose property).
The court, however, said: “The object of classifying these temples, and in bringing them within the ambit of the 2019 Act for its rejuvenation and its effective management by the Devasthanam Management Board, is undoubtedly reasonable. It cannot, therefore, be said to suffer from manifest arbitrariness violating Article 14. The contention, therefore, necessitates rejection.”
The bench added that the contention that the Act goes against Article 26 (right of religious denomination to manage their own affairs) does not hold since Hindus believing in Sanatan Dharma are not a religious denomination/section/sect. The HC has dealt extensively with the meaning of Hinduism in its judgment, saying that Hinduism was far more than a mere form of theism resting on Brahminism.
The HC also dismissed another plea filed by the Panch Mandir Samiti Gangotri Dham — a body that managed Gangotri and largely had members from the Semwal Brahim community— which claimed exclusive rights over the shrine as it was constructed by the Semwal community.
2021 Nov: shrines back in priests’ control
Kautilya Singh, Dec 1, 2021: The Times of India
The Uttarakhand government announced repealing of the Char Dham Devasthanam Board Act, which had brought over 50 temples, including Char Dham shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath, under state control. The Act, which had led to constitution of Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board, on lines of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, headed by an IAS officer, was opposed by priests of the Char Dham shrines as they claimed it would deprive them of their “centuries-old rights of administering temples.”
Speaking about the move to repeal the Act, CM Pushkar Singh Dhami said, “The decision has been taken on the basis of reports of two committees formed by us, whose members spoke to stakeholders and recommended the law be repealed. Social organisations, priests and several sections of the society were consulted. In the future, if we do decide to take a call on the issue, we will make sure everyone’s opinion is taken into account.”
The Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board Bill had been mooted by ex-CM Trivendra Singh Rawat. The board was mandated to be responsible for management of funds received by the temples, take decisions related to pilgrimages and carry out developmental works in and around the four Char Dham shrines. Bureaucrats and public representatives were made members of the board while teerth purohits (priests) claimed they were not made part of the process.
Soon after it was formed, protests, led by priests and opposition Congress, started across the state.
Fatalities during the pilgrimage
Shivani Azad, Deadliest Char Dham yatra in yrs claims 112 lives in 2017, November 19, 2017: The Times of India
With closure of portals of the Badrinath shrine on Sunday, this year’s Char Dham yatra will also come to an end. The yatra this year has notonly seen a record number of pilgrims (over 20 lakh) but also claimed maximum lives due to medical reasons — 112 — since the Kedarnathdeluge. Mostof them succumbed to cardiac arrest.
According to health department data, maximum dead pilgrims hailed from Maharashtra (14) followed by Karnataka (10), Madhya Pradesh (9), Gujarat (6) and Andhra Pradesh (5). The eldest to die was an 81-year-old woman from Maharashtra, Meera Bai. During the previous year's yatra, only 32 pilgrims had died among the14.12 lakh who visited the hill state. In 2015, there were just 8 fatalities while around 9.5 lakh pilgrims came for the yatra.
As the health department is trying to find out the causes of the deaths, officials said improper health screening of pilgrims could be a reason. “We had advised pilgrims to come withtheir healthcertificates. But the veracity of the certificates remains questionable,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
The pilgrimage as a vacation
Seema Sharma, How Char Dham yatra changed from pilgrimage to package holiday, May 27, 2017: The Times of India
Experts say that the centuries-old Char Dham yatra which has transformed into a holiday destination is causing a geological imbalance.
The growing infrastructure in the region such as luxury hotels and fancy eateries has been putting undue stress on the the region. Representative image Representative image
DEHRADUN: The spate of recent accidents and landslides on the Char Dham yatra circuit illustrate how the fragile mountainous area is not being able to keep up with the pressure that is increasingly being put on it. Hordes of travellers, mainly families often with small children in tow - all in holiday mode -- are a common sight on the yatra route as against the aged and spiritually inclined who used to undertake the yatra earlier.
The infrastructure that has been created in and around the pilgrimage sites to cater to the holidaymakers - such as luxury hotels with central heating, and fancy eateries - grimly accentuates how the thrust of the yatra has changed over the years. Result: the region's carrying capacity, designed by nature as being limited, is being subjected to undue stress.
Lokesh Ohri, Dehradun-based anthropologist and heritage expert, said the centuries-old yatra, long considered a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage performed by the devout, has undeniably transformed into a package tour jamboree attracting people who are more holidaymakers than pilgrims.
"Earlier people would trek barefoot to Kedarnath from Rambara (a distance of almost 14 km) while being on a fast, which meant no litter or solid waste on the way. But now, the entire thrust is to flaunt the number of people coming to these destinations by the government. The hordes that come to these sites treat it as just another holiday destination," he said.
The strain on the carrying capacity of the region is evident. There are around 500 local people staying in the townships in and around the Kedarnath shrine in the off-season months, but with the start of the season the numbers jump up to several lakhs. In June 2013, when the flash floods struck Kedarnath, an estimated 20,000 people were visiting the area daily. This figure is now expected to have doubled. Till date, as per government sources, a total of 8.03 lakh visitors have come for the Char Cham yatra in less than one month since the sites opened for the summer season. Of these, according to tourism minister Satpal Maharaj, 2 lakh have visited Kedarnath -- which is almost 50,000 more than last year.
Ohri said surging number of visitors, which is showcased as an achievement, doesn't mean much for the local people who derive limited benefit from the influx. "Most visitors don't stay in the chatties (halting stations) dotted on the trekking route which could have benefited the locals. The government is trying to do everything fast and quick in the Char Dhams by setting up a railway network and constructing an all-weather road. Instead of such aggressive ideas which are not ecologically sustainable, the thrust should be on holistic development of other sites since many areas in the state with a lot of tourism potential are virtually untapped." Maharaj said the tourism department is chalking out plans to promote "all the prominent Shiva, Vaishnav and Shakti temples for religious tourism in the state." He added, "I have also directed officials to regulate visitors' flow for Char Dham sites." Sunder Lal Bahuguna, renowned environmentalist known for pioneering the Chipko movement in the hills, said the solution may lie in developing alternate means of transportation to reach these shrines. " I have long been advocating building ropeways instead of road network for Kedarnath and other areas which are lush with forests and wildlife. The ropeways will minimise rush of people on the roads and the pollution emitted by the vehicles and put lesser strain on the ecology of the area."
Char Dham yatra
Uttarakhand: environment, ecology
Uttarakhand: Landslides, subsidence