The Bihar government has relented on its decision to turn Buddhist monasteries in the holy town of Bodh Gaya into quarantine centers
This decision was taken after a meeting on Monday evening at the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC) Office involving the DDC, Gaya, the executive officer of the Nagar Panchayat and N. Dorjee, Secretary, Buddhist Temples Management Committee.
” We were informed that the rooms in Buddhist Temples/Monasteries and Institutions will not be required for use as a quarantine for the people arriving by the 6 flights to Gaya Airport with effect from today,” said BTMC spokesperson Kiran Lama.
He said the district administration now realises that Hotels and Guesthouses in the area will serve the purpose as there will be not many people.
“It was decided that in case the needs arises for rooms, the Gaya District Administration and the Nagar Panchayat will approach the Temples/Monasteries and Institutions to check if was possible to provide rooms,” Lama told Easternlink.
He said the DDC,Gaya made it clear that the temples and monasteries should not to entertain anybody coming to ask for rooms .
Mr Lama said that the DDC had agreed to get his administration to vacate rooms in those temples where the first batch of returnees had been pushed in.
Local sources said that a Thai Buddhist temple had objected to be forced to take in returnees arriving at Gaya International Airport — but a few dozens had been lodged in there.
“Hopefully now they will be taken back,” said a monk . ” We are particularly worried about the under-age novice monks in our temples because they are more vulnerable .”Earlier the Bihar government had decided to commission the Buddhist temples and monasteries as quarantine centers in and around Bodh Gaya and also in Rajgir.
Bihar has been compelled to bring back a large number of stranded people from the state from USA, UK , other European countries and Middle East as well from the rest of India.
Since Bodhgaya airport is the only international airport in Bihar having to handle the large flow of Buddhist pilgrims from East and South-east Asia every year, the state government had decided to bring them back through Bodhgaya.
It is a huge exercise for the administration to put them in quarantine facilities for three weeks before allowing them to go home.
Although, there is no record of COVID 19 infection at Bodhgaya so far, but Buddhist monks were worried .
The small township has one central university, few colleges and a good number of hotels and one medical college at Gaya city about 15 Km away from the holy town of Bodhgaya.
The hotel owner’s association was reluctant to give away their hotel rooms to be used as quarantine facilities, especially because the amount offered was pittance.
On Monday , a top human rights NGO, The Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), headed by a leading Buddhist activist had conveyed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that notification of the Government of Bihar to turn all the Buddhist monasteries at Bodhgaya as quarantine centres was unacceptable.
” They are already inhabited by monks, caretakers and devotees, so to turn them into quarantine centres for returnees of the Vande Bharat Mission from Bihar puts the monks and others at risks of being infected by COVID-19,” RRAG chief Suhas Chakma said.
The RRAG sought PM Modi’s interventions to avoid the diplomatic embarrassment and ensure safety of the Buddhist monks, caretakers and devotees.
Bodhgaya is the holiest place of the Buddhists all over the world and a large number of foreign monks and devotees reside there.
The State Government of Bihar vide Circular No. 3751 dated 11.05.20 directed all Buddhist Temples/Monasteries and Buddhist Institutions of Bodhgaya, Gaya to turn them into quarantine centres for 21 days stay of the Indian nationals arriving from abroad.
The Gaya International airport will receive at least six flights during the second phase of Vande Bharat mission between May 18 and May 24 and the first flight, AI-0112, is likely to arrive today evening i.e. 18 May.
“Acquiring the Buddhist monasteries would have made sense if they were empty. However, in all monasteries, resident Buddhist monks of Indian and foreign nationals, caretakers and devotees reside. In exceptional cases, a few rooms in a temple may not be occupied but all other rooms are occupied by monks, caretakers and devotees. As everything is in a compound of the temple, there is no possibility for ensuring social distancing and other safety protocols.” Suhas Chakma said.
“Further, these monasteries are not like hotels. These Buddhist monasteries often operate with single kitchen, extremely inadequate sanitation services/cleaning required for quarantine and do not have any housekeeping services as required under the Guidelines for Quarantine Facilities of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,” he said in his letter .
The notification of the government of Bihar had already been opposed by International Buddhist Council, the apex body all the Buddhist monasteries and institutions at Bodhgaya, in a memorandum to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on 16 May 2020.
“The decision to turn these monasteries already being inhabited by monks, caretakers and devotees is simply illogical – if a COVID-19 patient can be quarantined in a Buddhist temple with four rooms where there are already monks, caretakers and devotees, there is no reason as to why the same person cannot be quarantined in his/her house.” Mr Chakma said.
The Buddhist temples notified as quarantine centres include temples from various countries including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Taiwan and Bangladesh.
“If any of the foreign national monks are infected, obviously, their diplomatic missions shall have to be notified by the Ministry of External Affairs. India must avoid the diplomatic embarrassment to having to inform the concerned foreign diplomatic missions that the monks of their nationality have been infected by turning the monasteries into quarantine centres,” warned Mr Chakma.
The monks were particularly upset when the Bihar government issued a circular , saying that implementation of IPC Act 188 would be imposed on any of the monastery in case of non-cooperation to orders.
They say that the rooms of the monasteries do not meet the SOP guideline issued by the Ministry of Health, Government of India for quarantine purpose.
Easternlink is the only media outlet which has reported on the crisis at Bodh Gaya caused by the Bihar government’s decision.
On Tuesday, senior monks thanked Easternlink for highlighting the issue that brought public attention to the crisis .