Narinjara news


Buddhagaya, 15
thMarch 02:   This year the number of Burmese pilgrims to the holy sites of Buddhism in India have dwindled to a handfuls due to the cancellation of the permits of privately run guided tours to places of Buddhist pilgrimage in India, according to a Buddhist monk from Burma.

Since 1996, Burmese pilgrims had been visiting the Buddhist holy sites of India and Nepal as the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the State Peace and Development Council junta issued permissions to run guided tours for the pilgrims to private tour operators.  This year the Ministry of the Burmese junta closed down privately run tour operations to the places of Buddhist pilgrimage on the grounds that it has drained the junta's poor foreign currency reserve. 

Previously the junta issued necessary foreign currency at the rate of Kyat 6.50 to the US dollar to each of the pilgrims, though the ' open-market' price of the dollar was more or less kyat 700.  The measure also affected the number of Buddhist monks who come to enroll for graduation and postgraduation degrees at the University of Buddhist Studies at Nalanda.  Instead of the regular thirty plus  Buddhist monks, only five could manage to come to study this year due to 'unavailability' of foreign currency for the purpose.

According to the monk, on return  from pilgrimage in India and Nepal  the pilgrims (like all other returnees from foreign countries) have to hand over their passports to the Immigration Department officials at the Rangoon International Airport, since the Burmese citizens are not allowed to keep their own passports on person.
Later on, the leaders of the tour guide operators in collusion with the corrupt Immigration Department officials used to take the passports of renowned monks and abbots, then after six months they would use the same to issue foreign currency illegally by doctoring necessary papers making applications by using the names of the monks  for foreign currency required for 'pilgrimage' abroad.  After drawing out the necessary foreign currency from the State Bank they would use the same for illegal money-making by travelling abroad.  
The SPDC junta without conducting a proper investigation to the matter ordered all private tour guide operators to Buddhagaya and other places of pilgrimage giving reasons that the pilgrimage has drained the junta coffer of precious foreign currency reserve. 

Interestingly, though all the tour guide operators have been cancelled of their business licences, a privately run Buddha Missionary Association (Buddha Thathanapyu Aphwe-chouk) based in Rangoon has been permitted to arrange  pilgrimage tours to India and Nepal for interested persons who want to take a pilgrimage tour.  The Aphwe-chouk collected the passports of the would-be pilgrims consisting of relatives of junta ministers, made contacts with the junta officials to issue foreign currency from the State bank, and then without travelling to India and Nepal,
the ' group of pilgrims' travelled abroad to Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia instead, doing a brisk business by selling precious stones from Burma there and bringing in electronics   and computer items that fetch high prices at home.  The profit made through the deal was later divided among all the junta officials engaged in the whole affair.

After the incidence came to light, there is much frustration and discontent among the  abbots and people who really want to go for pilgrimage to India and Nepal but cannot go  due to the junta relatives' "tour of pilgrimage"  made to the posh cities of South East Asia, it was learnt.  #