Secular loot and plunder of Hindu temples
By OP Gupta (IFS, Retd)
The Constitution of India stipulates India to be a secular country but the Government of India and provincial Governments under the Congress Party, Communist parties or other political parties have been targeting only Hindu temples for government takeover in the name of better management leaving aside all mosques, gurudwaras and churches as if there is no complaint against the latter ones.
Laws to control Hindu temples passed by the British Indian Government which was essentially a Christian Government were unfortunately retained by various Governments. Singling out only Hindu temples for government takeover is discriminatory, violates principles of secularism, and, deprives the Hindu community of their constitutional rights (Articles 25 and 26) to manage their own religious affairs without government interference. Devotees make donations to Hindu temples with earnest hopes that donations will be used not only for proper upkeep of temples but also to impart religious education to their children, propagate true Hindu religion and provide better facilities to pilgrims but when it comes to impart religious education Hindu children and to propagate Hindu religion the Government appointees on temple boards excuse themselves saying that being employees of a secular government they cannot participate in propagating a particular religion. Temple boards are failing in their duties to make arrangements to impart religious education to all Hindu youth out of temple offerings. How could officers of a secular government manage religious institutions of any community, it is a self-contradictory proposition. Due to government takeover, persons with no devotion and no deep knowledge about Vedas and Hinduism, and even non-Hindus and communists who have nothing to do with any religion land up in governing bodies of Hindu temples.
As non-Hindu officers too rightly become Chief Secretaries of State governments situation arises when a non-Hindu lords over management of Hindu temples through government controlled boards. For example in the Board of Trustees of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple there are at least seven officers of the UP Government in ex-officio capacity who need not always be Hindus. So we may even find non-Hindus or their deputies sitting on the Board of trustees of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. No non-Hindu and no atheist, whether elected or nominated should be allowed to sit in governing bodies of Hindu temples as government nominees.
Almost all well known Hindu temples including those at Puri, Tirupati, Guruvayoor, Kashi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Vaishno Devi, Mumbai (Shree Siddhi Vinayak Temple), Shirdi, Amarnath, Srisailam, Madurai and Rameshwaram etc are already under government’s control and plans are afoot to grab management of more temples. State takeovers have resulted in bureaucratic lethargy, gross mismanagement and embezzlement of temple funds, neglect of many temples, closure of many smaller temples, encroachments, sale and alienation of temple lands which is causing resentment among Hindus.
Many State governments are not using the income from Hindu temples exclusively for the cause of temples and Hindu religion, and, keep diverting temple earnings into general budgets and misusing temple earnings for non-Hindu purposes leaving many Hindu temples into dilapidated conditions and doing very little for benefits of Hindu pilgrims who offer generous donations to temples. For example annual earnings of the Tirupathi temple is over Rs 3500 crores but only about 15 per cent of this amount is reported to be spent on this temple and rest i.e. about Rs 3000 crore is diverted every year by the State government of Andhra Pradesh to non-Hindu purposes leaving Hindu priests poorly paid and Hindu pilgrims poorly looked after in terms of travel infrastructure, medical, hostel, food service facilities etc. This fund among others should have been used to give better salaries to all Hindu priests attached to temples or freelance priests and for free distribution of religious books like Vedas. Hindu priests offer religious services to Hindu community from birth to death. One regularly gets press reports that so many hundreds of Hindu pilgrims died in stampede here in this temple or there in that temple because of infra-structural deficiencies. It is reported that Andhra Pradesh government headed by late Y Samuel Rajsekhar Reddy (a Christian) had brought Christian institutions into the decision making body of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD) and its institutions. JRG Wealth Management, a Christian organisation was employed for ‘Prasadam’ materials for use in Tirupati temple. So, beef eaters are/were handling ‘prasadam’ materials of the Tirupathi Temple. And in 2006, the centuries old, 1,000 pillars Mandapam in Tirumala complex is reported to have been demolished by the Congress Government led by late Y. Samuel R Reddy.
In several districts of Andhra Pradesh, thousands and thousands of acres of land owned by government controlled temples have been sold, alienated, gifted and permitted to be grabbed by land grabbers though the government has no right to do so since it is not the owner of temple lands, it is only temporary custodian. It is reported that only 18 per cent of other temple earnings are released by the AP Government for temples and the remaining 82 per cent is diverted to non-Hindu purposes. In Bhadrachalam and Simhachalam, hundreds of acres of temple land have been given to Christian organisations. The Endowment Department of AP has sold over 1,600 acres of Srisailam Temple land to various missionary organisations. And in 2005, 245 acres of prime land belonging to Seetharama Chandra Swamy temple at Devarayamjal was sold at throwaway price causing huge loss to the temple. In Kerala, State control has rendered innumerable temples into poor state. Under the Kerala Land Reforms Act, over 12,000 acres of Guruvayoor temple’s land has been reduced to a few hundred acres only. And in Sabarimala, 2,500 acres of temple land has been sold by the government board. The previous Communist state government of Kerala wanted to pass an Ordinance to disband the Travancore and Cochin Autonomous Devaswom Boards (TCDBs) and take over the limited independent authority of 1,800 Hindu temples. This kind of move is afloat in Maharashtra where the government is eager to take over some 450,000 temples in the state. Almost 50 days after the first report came out about the amazing treasures found at the secret cellars of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the CPI(M) expressed its formal opinion on those valuables worth over Rs 100,000 crore that the temple treasures are State asset and it should be handled “democratically”. “This (treasure) might contain kanikka (offerings) given by devotees. There could be articles collected forcibly from smaller kingdoms during annexure campaigns. It could also contain valuables collected from the people in many ways. In that sense, it is national property,” Pinarayi told the media persons in Thiruvananthapuram. One may recall that Dr Manmohan Singh, a minority politician and Prime Minister, while addressing the National Development Council on December 9, 2006 publicly instructed the civil servants, “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources”. Both statements put together means Muslims, Christians and other non-Hindus have first claim over treasure of Padmanabhaswamy temple!! In Orissa also the government has been selling Jagannath temple endowment lands. The temple management from 1952 has been taken over by the Odisha government and the management has no elected representatives of Hindus and all are appointees of the government. In 2011-12 temple earning is expected to be Rs 59.6 crores but actual expenditure on maintenance will be much less and about Rs 26 crores will be added to the corpus fund of temple rising to Rs 182 crores leaving Hindu pilgrims and Hindu priests high and dry. And, to top it all, in Orissa, the state government intends to sell over 70,000 acres of endowment lands from the Jagannath Temple. In Rajasthan, land and revenue of many Hindu temples have been misappropriated by government controlled bodies and functionaries. In Jammu and Kashmir, even Mata Vaishno Devi Temple University created with the funds of Vaishno Devi Temple does not have Hindu religious studies in its curriculum. In Karanataka, Rs. 79 crores were collected from temples and from that, temples received only Rs seven crores for their maintenance, Muslim madrassas and Haj subsidy were given Rs 59 crore and churches about Rs 13 crore. Karnatak Government does not collect any fund from Muslim mosques and churches but gives them funds.
Because of all this peanut allocation of Rs seven crore funds 25 per cent of the two lakh temples or about 50,000 temples in Karnataka will be closed down for lack of resources. Bihar government’s control over the temples through its Hindu Endowments Department has resulted in the loss of temple properties worth Rs 2,000 crores. Annual income of the Kashi Vishwanath temple was Rs 4.9 crore in the year ending March 31, 2010 including offerings of Rs three crore, and, annual expenditure was Rs 72 lakh. Facilities for pilgrims are minimal. Temple fund stood at Rs 34 crores. Tamil Nadu has been alternately ruled by two Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK. Though both are anti-Hindu God parties but both have been unanimous in controlling all Hindu temples through the Hindu Religious and Charitable endowment Department. The DMK Government even tried to exclude this department from Right to Information Act to cover up mismanagement, plunder and loot. It is reported that the Karunanidhi Government swindled about 200 kg gold in gold plating of vimanas and golden chariots scheme in various temples. Since temples belong to Hindu society which has built and maintained them over the centuries, these must be restored to Hindu community as like other communities, Hindus too have a constitutional right to manage their places of worship. Independent boards comprising of Hindus directly elected by Hindus alone must govern all Hindu temples and shrines as is the case with places of worship of other communities. In such elected boards there may be a few professionals nominated by Governments and some hereditary functionary as per local tradition if any. A Uniform Central Law providing for boards elected by Hindus should be enacted so that Hindu temples could be liberated from clutches of secular governments. The Congress Government of NarsimhaRao connived in the Supreme Court and the government advocates under represented the public interest before the Court with the result that about 50 lakh imams are getting their salaries and perks from the Government of India and provincial governments through facade of wakf boards right from 1994 (1993 AIR 2086, All India Imams Organisation vrs Union of India, May 13, 1993). No Muslim country in the world pays any Haj subsidy to Muslim pilgrims but the Government of India pays subsidy to the tune of Rs 800 crores a year. It is totally communal and retrograde. No priest should get salaries from the government or all priests from every religion should get.Since government is paying salaries to all Muslim Imams through wakf boards it is fair and equitable to pay salaries to all Hindu priests belonging to any caste or gender whether attached to any temple or freelance priests, and, those priests who are interested to get salaries may register themselves at [email protected] so that a data base could be created for effectively taking up their salary case with appropriate authorities.