As Jains slap the ‘tourist spot’ tag for Sammed Shikharji Shrine in Jharkhand, Hemant Soren Taps Center


Reacting to protests by Jains against the designation of their main shrine Sammed Shikharji in Jharkhand as an ecotourism destination, the central government has halted all such activities in the larger hills of Parasnath, where it is located.

He also asked the state to act strictly against prohibited practices such as the consumption of alcohol or the “fouling of sites of religious and cultural significance” or damage to the ecology.

Jain community leaders fear that designating the place as a tourist destination will “harm its sanctity”.

Earlier today, Chief Minister Hemant Soren wrote to the Center asking for “appropriate decisions” on its 2019 notification. He wrote that the state’s tourism policy for 2021 – which the community opposes also – aims to form a management council capable of better managing the sanctuary.

Led by the state tourism secretary, it will have six non-governmental members chosen from the Jain community, the letter said. He added that the community’s opposition was to declare Parasnath Hills, where the sanctuary is located, an “ecotourism” area.

The letter to the Union Department of Environment came days after the department wrote to the state asking it to ‘recommend necessary changes for further action needed’.

Just two hours later, Union Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav issued a memo saying environmentally harmful activities should be “suspended” immediately. Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy also told a press conference that “nothing will be done to harm anyone’s religious feelings”. He pointed out that ecotourism meant that there were no permanent structures, restaurants and the like, in this area.

The Centre’s memo also states that at least two members of the board must be from the Jain community.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress government argued that the initial notifications were made by the BJP governments and that the Center should act. BJP’s Raghubar Das, who was chief minister in 2019, also said bad decisions can be corrected now.

Jain community leaders fear that designating the place as a tourist destination will “harm its sanctity”.

Earlier in the day, Jharkhand’s tourism secretary, Manoj Kumar, told PTI that the decision to designate 200 sites, including Sammed Shikharji, as tourist destinations was for “administrative convenience”.

These places have long been identified nationally and internationally as tourist spots and attract pilgrims and visitors from all over the world, he said. The notification contains a provision for the creation of an authority, with representatives of the Jain community, to set rules for better management of Shri Sammed Shikharji, he added.

He said the state government was also ready to change the classification and include “Jain religious place” for Sammed Shikharji.

Parasnath Hills shrine in Giridih district, home to the highest peak in the state about 160 km from the state capital, Ranchi, is one of the holiest places for Jains including for the Digambar and Shwetambar sects, since 20 of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras have reached ‘moksa’ (hi) to this place.

Mr Kumar said Parasnath Hills is unlike any other normal tourist spot as it falls under the jurisdiction of a wildlife sanctuary and even for small constructions permission must be sought from the wildlife authorities.

The Jain community, however, fears that hotels, bars and restaurants will move there “destroying the sanctity of the place”.

“The government’s proposal to include ‘Jain religious place’ in the notification is just an eyewash. We are a minority community that contributes significantly to the economy. We demand that the notification be removed,” said Padam Kumar Chhabra, a leader of the Ranchi Jain community. .

Jains are a small minority – around 1% of India’s population – but have been influential in business and form around 5% of the Mumbai City district, considered the country’s financial capital.

The National Commission for Minorities took note and scheduled a hearing for January 17. It can make recommendations to governments.

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