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Hindu Temples and Government Control – Where is Transparency & Accountability?

Author: Niticentral Staff
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: July 15, 2015
URL:   http://www.niticentral.com/2015/07/15/hindu-temples-323655.html

How is the Government accountable to you for the Hindu Temples it controls ?

How much do you know of how the Government spends the money you donate to Hindu Temples ?

Namma Devasthana, a group focused on reinstating the Hindu temples as center of social and cultural exchange, held a press conference yesterday addressing the need for transparency and accountability in the temple administration.

Nagarajan of the Temple Worshipper’s Society (Chennai), Advocate Kiran Bettadapur and K Gopinath, Professor IISC addressed the audience.

The writ petition filed by Swami Dayanand Saraswati of Arsha Vidya Peetha in the Supreme Court in 2012 is  significant as it challenges the government legislations  under which Hindu temples are managed. The petition  requests the Supreme Court to null the power of the State to appoint Executive officers, appoint trustees, levy fee on the temples and mismanage temple funds.

Nagarajan highlighted the draconian laws encouraging the government to allocate to itself alone the right to manage temples. The government’s failure to address the audit objections over temple assets and expenditures is a fact that needs to be taken cognizance by the Supreme Court immediately.

Nagarajan also mentioned that Supreme Court needs to clear the duration for which the Executive Officers are appointed in the temples.

Advocate and member of Karnataka State Bar Council Kiran Bettadapur pointed out that the government needs to have a structured route to exit temple administration.

“Temples cannot be indefinitely managed. The government needs to specify an exit policy also.”

Kiran stated the shortcomings in the present temple management scenario:

The temple jewels for example can be sold after permission is granted by the Executive officer, who takes the weight of the ornament and states its value as per temple records. Such practices ultimately lead to the misappropriation of funds by government officials.

To maintain the temples an Architectural Committee is present. It however has only 3 members to look after 35,000 temples which is impossible. Hence threat to the upkeep of temples and temple architecture dating back to centuries.

The government is acting as the judge as well as the jury, as all personnel trusted with temple management are government appointed including auditors and charted accountants, which is against good governance.

RTIs filed against the Karnataka government are not replied to citing reference to other cases where a state government refused to reply to RTIs, strongly indicating lack of transparency.

K Gopinath stated that there has to be a time frame within which the government can enter temple administration, rectify the mistake and exit.

The Karnataka Endowments Department (Muzrai) is endowed with the upkeep of about 35,000 temples. However, the government’s interference in religious affairs under the pretext of being secular has not been justified. To add to the issue, temple funds are transferred to government coffers, and audit fees are levied on the temples as administrative charges.

Voicing his deep concern over the current state of Hindu temples, Kiran Bettadapur said that this could be merely a glimpse into what could be a huge scam, relieving the temples in South India of their wealth, by shrewd malpractice.

Strong audit measures need to be introduced, to keep a check on the wealth and expenditures associated with temples. Regulatory mechanisms not contrary to the secular principles of the constitution need to be urgently invoked.

The Movement to Free Hindu Temples has come a long way since these baby steps last year and earlier this year.  The manner in which the Puri Jagannath Temple Brahma Paribartan was mismanaged is a reminder of how widespread the malaise is. It will however have to assume the scale of a Mass Movement so extraordinary pressure is brought to bear on the Governments and the Courts to address this constitutional assault on Hindu Temples.
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