PIL on Gandhi Ashram in HC: Govt says new trust for better coordination, not to take over existing ones

The Mahatma Gandhi Sabarmati Ashram Memorial Trust (MGSAMT) has been formed for enhanced coordination and consultation between the (existing) trusts and the government, and “not to take over anything”, the state government submitted in the Gujarat High Court Tuesday. The “proposed project envisages the vital role of all stakeholders to ensure the autonomy of (the existing five) trusts is maintained”, the government stated defending the formation of the new trust.

“We are a democracy, not in an autocratic state of affairs,” remarked Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, on behalf of the state government.

The state’s submission came during the hearing of public interest litigation by Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, before the HC challenging the development plan of the Gandhi Ashram and its precincts planned at a cost of over Rs 1,200 crore.

The submission came following Gandhi’s apprehensions that MGSAMT, formed by a Government Resolution in September 2021, is responsible not only for developing the project but will operate and maintain it. “Essentially this trust (MGSAMT) will have the control of the 55 acres to the exclusion of the present trusts,” his counsel submitted.

The matter is expected to be taken up further Wednesday.

Currently, five trusts, namely Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT), Khadi Gramodyog Samiti Trust, Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust (SHAT), Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala Trust and Harijan Sevak Sangh, own and manage the erstwhile 120-acre Gandhi Ashram area.

“What is important to note is, the trustees (of MGSAMT), will be decided by the state government. So today, they have inducted four representatives of the (present-day) trusts, tomorrow if there are differences of opinion over the development of the project, the state government can very well remove them and they (state government) will be well within their powers to remove them. In this context, the powers of the government to change, vary or, in fact, to completely remove all representatives of (existing trusts) is absolute in this new trust (MGSAMT). (Existing) trusts themselves do not know what will be the effect of the new trust (MGSAMT) coming in and to what (extent) the new trust (MGSAMT) will exert control in the day-to-day (administration),” the petitioner submitted before the division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice AJ Shastri.

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