Hindu Group Campaigns For Temple In Dam Area Despite Court Ban

India
2003-06-12 00:00:00

A Hindu organization is campaigning to rebuild a temple in a dam area in southern India despite a court ban and state opposition for ecological and security reasons.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council) announced June 11 it would spend 20 million rupees (some US$430,000) to rebuild a temple submerged 29 years ago by the dam in Idukki district, Kerala state.

The right-wing group has also launched a campaign to enlist public support for the project, disregarding a state government order to abandon it.

Kerala Chief Minister A.K. Antony told reporters June 10 his government would not allow further construction on the temple site, exposed due to low water levels in the dam reservoir. He said special police teams have been deployed to ensure that no VHP activists enter the reservoir area.

The 167-meter-high Idukki dam is an arch dam, whose outward curve holds back the water. A hydroelectric power project based on the dam, commissioned in 1976, meets most of Kerala´s energy needs.

VHP activists began rebuilding the temple in the reservoir area in April. They say a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ayyappa that was on the site was submerged in 1974 as the reservoir filled.

The Kerala State Electricity Board, which manages the dam, petitioned the state high court in April to ban the construction. It said declining water levels behind the dam the past few years allowed the construction to begin. Were it allowed to continue, the petition warned, the dam´s water level would have to be lowered permanently to ensure the new temple is not submerged.

The agency informed the court that reducing the water level would have a considerable effect on power generation in Kerala. It also said allowing worshippers into the area would affect security at the dam.

The court on May 14 ordered a halt to the construction, but the VHP district president in Idukki, K.N. Rajendran, said his group will challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court of India.

The submerged temple "was a sacred place of worship for thousands of local people, especially the tribals. We want our temple back," Rajendran told UCA News June 10. He led a rally the day before and said the VHP would organize more such rallies across Kerala.

"The VHP will not stop the campaign until we are allowed to complete the reconstruction of our religious place of worship," Rajendran said.

Kerala State Electricity Board officials and environmentalists say the demand is unjustified.

According to K.R. Gopalakrishnan, deputy director of the board, "The dam and surroundings are protected areas and no organization has any rights to encroach into the land and build religious places of worship."

The VHP campaign is "full of lies," Gopalakrishnan told UCA News.

When the dam was built, he said, the government relocated the temple to a nearby village at its own expense with the consensus of local Hindu leaders.

Rajendran acknowledged this, but said the relocated temple could not substitute for the old one. "Many local people believe that the old temple in the reservoir was a miraculous place of worship," he explained.

The VHP leader said the state´s water and electricity problems could be "solved through divine help" if the temple is rebuilt on the reservoir site.

Environmentalists Thomas Kurien and Raghunath Varma, who have conducted extensive ecological studies in hilly Idukki district, call the Hindu group´s demand "outrageous."

It "is against all religious and moral ethics," Kurien told UCA News. He wondered why the VHP wants a temple "inside the dam, when they are allowed to build any number of temples anywhere they want."

He said his and Varma´s research has proved that Idukki is an ecologically sensitive area because of the dam. "If thousands of devotees go to pray in the proposed temple, it would be a great threat to the dam," he maintained.

According to Varma, the dam reservoir area also forms part of a highly protected wildlife sanctuary. "A temple in the dam reservoir will be an ecological disaster. VHP leaders should sensitize the common Hindus about the dangers of a temple inside the dam," he told UCA News.

END

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