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HINDU TEMPLES UNDER GOVERNMENT CONTROL

INTRODUCTION

According to a report the Tamil Nadu government gave the Madras High Court last year, there are 11,999 temples in the state where no rituals or poojas are performed since there is no money to support them. Only one person is in charge of running the affairs of every respective 34000 temple. These temples have annual revenues of less than Rs 10,000. They predicted that within the next few years, 12,000 temples would be lost.[1]According to a government official declaration, 1,200 deities have been stolen or have gone missing. According to several police officers’ books, thousands of idols are fake because, over the past 25 years, the original idols have been stolen and replaced with replicas. The situation is alarming and real, not social media sensationalism.

THE COLONIAL HANGOVER OF THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT

In India, before the arrival of the British, local groups were in charge of running the temples. According to some historical texts, they served as major decentralized commercial hubs, dancing, and art centers. Every temple had charity endowments, such as property donated to temples for the good of the community. The privileges included establishments for the advancement of education and the feeding of the needy, as well as rest houses, pathshalas, and gaushalas. It was necessary to weaken the temple organization for the British colonization and conversion program to be successful. Therefore, temples were mostly placed under government authority in southern India because there weren’t many temples in the north with such extensive wealth or property. To do this, the British issued The Madras Regulation VII of 1817.[2]Because Christian missionaries in India and abroad objected to Christians running Hindu temples, the East India Company ordered the temples to be handed back to their trustees in 1840. As a result, control of temples was gradually transferred to trustees and, in the case of notable temples, to Mutts by 1845. The administration of sizable temples was under the Board of Revenue’s control.

THE TRUSTEE’S MANAGEMENT

The Mutathipatis and other trustees never lost sight of the importance of worship and the use of funds for maintaining temples.

In the Madras Presidency, hundreds of temples were given to their respective trustees, with the Government having little to no involvement in their management. Trustees managed the temple under the rules that applied to temples.

WHAT CHANGED THE SCENARIO?

Up until the British passed The Madras Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in 1925, everything was fine. Both Muslims and Christians protested vociferously. As a result, it was altered to exclusively apply to Hindus, to exclude them, and to change its name to the Madras Hindu Religious and Endowments Act 1927.[3] Ironically, the Sikh Gurdwaras Act passed in 1925[4] placed gurdwaras under the authority of a Sikh elected body. Therefore, the British had different regulations for Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs than for Hindus. Even today, Hindu educational institutions, temples, and religious practices are subject to government supervision and judicial review. Take the Supreme Court’s decision about the Sabarimala temple, for instance.

GOVERNMENT TAKING CONTROL OF TEMPLES  

Bypassing the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951,[5] the Tamil Nadu government assumed control of temples and their funds after the country’s independence. The Shirur Math case brought the act’s provisions before the Madras High Court and, ultimately, the Supreme Court. The 1951 act’s several provisions were overturned by both courts. The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act was passed in 1959 with a few modifications. At that time, Congress was in charge of the nation. It stated that the act’s goal was to ensure that religious trusts and institutions are properly run and that any income is not misappropriated. The new law dissolved the Hindu Religious Endowments Board and transferred its jurisdiction to the Government’s Department of Hindu religious and charitable endowments, which is managed by a commissioner.

The commissioner may be authorized to investigate and take the endowment under government control if the Government suspects that any Hindu public charity endowment is being improperly managed. Muslims and Christians are immune from this mismanagement rule. The Indian Government is going against constitutional norms and also being unfair to Hindus When the Constitution first went into effect in 1950, the Preamble referred to India as a “sovereign democratic republic.” Later, during the Emergency, the Government in power amended the Preamble by adding the terms “socialist” and “secular.” In addition to the Preamble, the Constitution’s other articles, particularly Articles 25 and 26 also contend for the secular ideal.

Articles 25 and 26[6] ensure the right to freedom of conscience, as well as the right to freely proclaim, practice, and propagation of religion. Every denomination, or any subsection thereof, is granted the freedom to create and sustain institutions for religious and philanthropic purposes, to conduct its affairs on issues of religion, and to possess, acquire, and manage the property. These constitutional protections are fully utilized and managed by Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and other religious groups. The Government is not permitted to interfere with these groups. Since the country’s independence, the Government has interfered in the affairs of Hindu religious institutions, showing utter disregard for both this constitutional requirement and the feelings of the nation’s 100 crore Hindus.

LIBERATING THE TEMPLES FROM GOVERNMENT CONTROL[7]

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Bommai, who also holds the Finance portfolio, presented the state budget for 2022–23 to the legislative assembly on Friday, March 4. His proposal calls for giving the Endowment Department’s temples autonomy to end government control over the state’s temples. Up until today, the rules mandated that temple managements request government approval before using their income for development.  The Karnataka CM said, “There is a long pending demand to do away with the government control on the temples. By considering these demands of devotees, autonomy will be given to temples coming under the purview of the Endowment Department. Necessary legal action will be taken to delegate the discretion of developmental works to the temples,”

Bommai’s action follows growing opposition to the Government’s authority over Hindu temples and the opinions of influential public opinion leaders like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. He claims that the Tamil Nadu government is in charge of 44,000 temples spread across more than 500,000 acres of land. The income from these temples, however, is a pitiful 128 crore. In contrast, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, according to the Sadhguru, manages 85 gurdwaras on a budget of more than $1 billion. This statistic opens your eyes. This decision might be considered a victory for the effort to free Hindu temples from governmental control in at least one significant state, as the demand for this has grown over time. Notably,[8] the Muzrai (Endowment) department is in charge of the state’s 34,563 temples, which have been assigned grades A, B, or C based on how much money they generate. Thirty-four thousand two hundred seventeen temples come into category C if their annual revenue is less than Rs 5 lakh, 139 temples fall into category B if their annual income is between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, and 207 temples fall into category A if their annual revenue exceeds Rs 25 lakh.

Bommai further stated that compensation for land owned by the Government would be increased from Rs. 48,000 to Rs. 60,000 to help Archakaru, Agamikaru (priests), and endowment temple staff. He added that the numerous services offered by the temple would be accessible via the internet thanks to the software known as the “Integrated Temple Management System.” According to the Chief Minister, the Government will provide a subsidy of Rs 5,000 per person to 30,000 pilgrims traveling the “Kaashi Yatra” from Karnataka. The Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation will introduce the “Pavitra Yatra” program to lower the cost of pilgrimage vacations (KSTDC).

CONCLUSION

What we need is for the Government to hand over all of the temples to the devout. The handover does not have to be completed rapidly in one go. It should be done correctly because it is a complicated process. The key is to demonstrate your intent upfront. The process of returning our temples to the community might be developed by a commission that could be constituted. Above all, what sort of freedom is it for individuals to not be able to practice their faith any way they like after 74 years of independence for India? We must liberate the temples.

Author(s) Name: Yuvraj Pratap Singh (Himachal Pradesh National Law University)

References:

[1]  Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, ‘Why India’s temples must be freed from government control’ (First Post, 25 March 2021) <https://www.firstpost.com/india/why-indias-temples-must-be-freed-from-government-control-9460381.html> accessed 25 July 2022

[2] Sanjeev Nayyar, ‘Indian govt won’t be any different from the British if Hindus can’t manage their own temples’ (The Print, 8 April 2019) <https://theprint.in/opinion/indian-govt-wont-be-any-different-from-british-if-hindus-cant-manage-their-own-temples/218210/> accessed 25 July 2022

[3] Religious Endowments Act, 1863

[4] Sikh Gurdwara Act Indian history [1925]’ (Britannica) <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sikh-Gurdwara-Act> accessed 25 July 2022

[5] Madras Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951

[6] Constitution of India, 1950, art.25 and art.26

[7] ‘Soon, bill to free state temples from govt’s control’ (Hindustan Times, 30 December 2021) <https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/soon-bill-to-free-state-temples-from-govt-s-control-says-karnataka-cm-bommai-101640805146601.html> accessed 25 July 2022

[8] ‘Karnataka govt to grant autonomy to temples under Endowment Department’ (Op India, 4 March 2022) <https://www.opindia.com/2022/03/karnataka-to-free-to-temples-from-govt-control-announces-cm-bs-bommai/> accessed 25 July 2022