Why is a secular Government controlling Hindu Temples?

The Tamil Nadu (Madras) Government created a department called the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) in 1951 out of the Hindu Religious Endowments Board which was functioning from 1927.
Why should a secular government seriously involve itself with the religious institutions of Hindus, is a question Hindus have failed to ask the Government and the Courts for the past three generations!

In fact, why is Government managing only Hindu religious institutions is a question that should concern us. The answer as we shall see is simple: money, property and resources coupled with ignorance and indifference of Hindus. Successive Governments have deliberately exploited and neglected at will the vast resources of Hindu religious institutions. Properties and resources of other religious institutions though substantial are much less by comparison.

Many Hindu citizens are not even aware that there are no special religious rights or privileges for the so-called minorities. All citizens in India are guaranteed the same religious rights. However, only Hindu religious institutions are subjected to total government control.

The following chart would illustrate how Governments target only Hindu religious institutions.

Religious Institutions Hindu Muslim Christian
1. Scope of Religious Endowments Acts Like  Tamil Nadu Act of 1959 and A.P. Act of 1987 All Institutions including Temples, Mutts and Endowments Only Trusts and Endowments. Places of worship i.e. Mosques are not included. No Acts or legislations to regulate or control Christian Institutions or Trusts
2. Executive Officer Appointed by the Commissioner who is a Servant of the Government Appointed by non-Government Wakf Board No such appointments
3. Status of Executive Officer Government Servant Non-Government Person alone can be appointed No such appointments
4. Powers under the Acts General Superintendence and control of Temples, Mutts, endowments and their properties. Can Supervise only Wakf properties None
5. Religious Matters High level of interference in Hindu religious matters including daily poojas Interference in religious matters specifically prohibited None

The claim of these State Governments is that they have taken the administration of temples and endowments in their hands only to ‘safeguard’ their properties. And to ‘ensure’ that the income from the vast properties is properly realized and spent for the primary purposes for which the temples were established or exist and for purposes the endowments were created.

Nothing could be farther from truth.

To illustrate, the landed properties of temples, mutts and the related endowments in Tamil Nadu alone, include 4,78,545 acres of land; 22,599 buildings , and 33,627 vacant sites. The vacant sites are 29 Crore square feet in area (conservative value Rs.6,000 crores)

For this vast and valuable property the HR & CE Department claims to have demanded a ludicrous rent Rs.304 Crores and collected a paltry Rs.36 crores! Let us se what this means.

  • Rent for Irrigated agricultural land: Demand, Rs.3,300 yearly, per acre;  collection Rs.265 yearly per acre!
  •  Rent for urban ‘sites’: Demand Rs.7,000 yearly per ‘ground’ (2,400 sq ft) Collection Rs. 595 yearly per ‘ground’

In today’s market rates potential rent from these properties would not be less than Rs.10,000 Crores per annum.  Even if we assume that they are rented out at half market value these properties should fetch a billion dollars annually. Year after year the loss to Hindu temples and endowments is more than Rs. 5,000 crores due to Government’s mismanagement and corruption. Since 1976, temples and endowments accounts have not been ‘audited’ by any independent authority. Internal audits, by HR&CE departments itself, have  documented several serious lapses, yet no action has been taken.

Destruction of our Temples' antiquity:

Besides not realizing the true income of temple properties, Government officials in HR & CE Department have caused irreparable damage to Hindu religious, cultural and heritage sites of Tamil Nadu - about 400 of them are more than 1500 years old - by completely commercializing the temples with shops and modern offices, laying polished granites and tiles in the temples, building new and incongruous structures inside the temples, sand blasting inscriptions and murals, allowing buildings to come up near the temples, etc. These are unpardonable crimes against not only our holy places and archaeological treasures but also against our heritage and culture.

In Eangoimalai temple, an ancient Siva Temple near Tiruchirapalli and a Tevara sthalam, the main deity – an Emerald Sivalingam - was stolen. The value and significance of this sacred Sivalingam is beyond ordinary reckoning. The commercial value of an emerald object of that size is said be around Rs.2,000 – 3,000 crores. The Tamil Nadu Government and the HR & CE Department have done nothing to recover the deity. Law enforcers in the US and other countries have seized scores of antique icons and statues stolen from our temples and smuggled out of India. The HR & CE department has not shown any interest in recovering these idols and getting them back to our temples.

Interference in Religious Matters:

By law, every temple is to be managed by Trustees, many of them hereditary, whose families have safeguarded and preserved the temple for centuries. However the Government by devious means have bypassed the Trustees and made them subordinate to the Executive Officer(E.O). It is incidental that the EOs, by law, are supposed to 'supervise and manage temple properties' only for a short temporary period. By controlling appointment of Trustees, Government has ensured that it has full control over all affairs of the temple including daily poojas, rituals and annual festivals. The right to plan and worship as per traditions and tenets of the temples are taken away from the Hindu communities. The Government interferences go down to the extent of deciding how many bananas and coconuts can be offered to the deity at what time of the day and at what cost. Besides, Governments also decides on which day the consecrations of temples should take place, at which spot the yagnas are to be conducted, in which language archanas can take place, etc.

There is a Joint Commissioner in the Department whose job is to sanction balalayams, installation of idols, Kumbhabishekam dates and so on. These are completely against the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to all citizens of India including Hindus. Needless to say the Government officials do not have the knowledge, qualifications, experience or understanding of the religious practices – they are in most cases persons with law degrees, owing allegiance to local 'party' functionaries, who can browbeat even the most ardent trustee or devotee.

The government Executive Officers' interferences in the religious matters, customs and traditions of the holiest of Vaishanava temples, Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy temple and in the holiest of Sri Murugan temples, Tiruchendur are innumerable.

Quit Temples

Government has effectively hijacked the ownership and running of temples from the hands of Hindus. It is robbing Hindu Temples and endowments in Tamil Nadu of crores of Rupees every year. It is destroying our ancient temple structures and has scant respect for the protection of our sacred idols, icons, statuary, murals and inscriptions.

The Government mismanages temple properties. They have failed to protect the properties and have failed to realize the income from the properties. They  have commercialized the temples and have failed to protect and preserve their antiquity and heritage. They have failed to safeguard the valuable jewels and icons belonging to temples. They have deliberately desecrated the temple premises and corrupted the rituals, traditions and worship. It is high time Hindus retrieve their temples from the clutches of corrupt, inefficient Governments and restore them to their rightful grandeur and tradition. We owe it to posterity that we preserve for the generations to come, the richness of our religion and culture that has come down to us over many centuries.

Temple Worshippers Society:

A few concerned Swamijis, individuals, professionals, Judges, Lawyers and Civil Servants have come together to spread awareness of the unfair treatment meted to Hindu religion and to legally take up issues with the Government. Hopefully, very soon our temples would be free from Government control and exploitation. Under their guidance we have formed "Temple Worshipers Society" (TWS) as a registered body under the TN Societies Act last year and have already started to make our presence felt.

TWS has now filed a Writ Petition in the Madras High Court against the HR & CE Department's failure in providing basic and mandatory information under the Right to Information Act. TWS has also served notices to the Tamil Nadu Government and the HR & CE Department for improper alienation of valuable properties belonging to temples and endowments. TWS

TWS is embarking on a big legal battle to throw the HR & CE Department and the Government out of our temples in Tamil Nadu. It is not going to be an easy or quick battle given the tendency of Courts, particularly Madras High Court to side with the Government when issues are raised regarding temples and their administration. Considering the seriousness of the matter and the questions of law involving Constitutional rights and the planned discrimination meted out to Hindus by successive governments, TWS is taking this issue through a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India.

TWS proposes to engage Senior Counsels who are well versed in Constitutional Law. TWS would also continue to seek legal remedies, (wage smaller battles) in cases of specific atrocities of the HR & CE Department in Tamil Nadu courts wherever possible and to recover some of the important properties of temples. There are hundreds of not well-known temples whose properties have been systematically alienated or criminally encroached. TWS would be fighting against these temple looters in various Courts – Civil and Criminal – besides waging the main war in the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2012, Temple Worshippers Society