Hindustan Times (Lucknow)

CONGRESS GOVT ANNOUNCES PENSION FOR U’KHAND PRIESTS

- Deep Joshi letters@hindustant­imes.com

The Congress government in Uttarakhan­d has announced a monthly pension of ` 800 for around 500,000 Hindu priests, sparking off a controvers­y with opposition BJP accusing chief minister Harish Rawat of trying to woo Brahmin voters.

All priests who perform religious ceremonies in households and temples, and are not associated with the Char Dham – the state’s four pilgrimage centres of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri – will be eligible for the scheme, sources said.

Government schemes for religious leaders have been a contentiou­s issue in the past. Last year, the Calcutta high court barred West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee from paying a monthly stipend to thousands of imams and muezzins, religious leaders who organise prayers in mosques.

Officials said the Uttarakhan­d government’s decision was aimed at checking “distress migration” of priests due to lack of earning opportunit­ies.

“Purohits (priests) aren’t able to earn enough and are hence migrating. The pension will check this forced migration,” said additional chief secretary S Raju. Official sources said Char Dham priests were excluded from the scheme since they are generally economical­ly better off.

The BJP, however, said the plan was aimed at helping the ruling Congress in the state where polls are due in 2017. The BJP had swept the hill state in May’s general elections.

“The CM has initiated the pension scheme to help the Congress secure the Brahmin vote bank that constitute­s 28-30% of the state’s voters,” said state BJP spokespers­on Suresh Joshi.

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