Worshippers can unleash a temple’s full potential by liberating it. Temples can be elegantly and superbly maintained if they are left in the care of the worshipers. There are many different ways and modules that a temple can run. The gurudwaras provide the community with free meals in the form of langars, which helps many people by feeding the hungry. In a similar way, a budget and a plot of land should be allocated to temples so that they can focus the majority of their resources there. They would be able to perform a vast array of extra activities, such as helping during the current epidemic stage and during natural disasters like earthquakes and tidal waves. They are then able to respond to disasters more quickly and efficiently than the government because of their strong relationships with the community. The government cannot do this since funding is channeled through the system. Temples are not just places of worship; they also contain art, history, and culture. Particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu, the temple tower serves as the state emblem. Since the temple is the centre of India, there are several “temple towns” there.
Because of their close ties to the community, they are able to respond to crises more swiftly and effectively than the government. Due to the system’s financial flow, the government is unable to accomplish this. Temples are not just places of prayer; they also house works of art and cultural artefacts. The temple tower is used as the state emblem, especially in Tamil Nadu. There are numerous “temple towns” there since the temple served as India’s administrative centre.
CONTROL BY THE GOVERNMENT OVER HINDU TEMPLES IS ILLEGAL
During a conference conducted in Delhi a few years ago, more than a dozen lawyers, campaigners, and other leaders of civil society expressed concern regarding the “illegal” government ownership of Hindu temples. As stated by Swami Paramatmanandaji, the secretary of HDAS, HDAS has petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of certain State Acts that govern temples. The symposium was organized by HDAS. A Supreme Court attorney named Pinky Anand argued that the law’s clauses authorizing the government to occupy temples were invalid and unenforceable.
The leader of the Temple Worshippers Society claims that the government has seized control of hundreds of temples that have assets worth millions of dollars. The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act, which was passed in 1959, reinstated the same provisions that the Supreme Court had declared “illegal” in the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act 1951, which dealt with the appointment of executive officers in temples, he claimed. Several speakers emphasised the need for equality between Hindus and minorities while using Hindu victimisation and “discrimination” by the Indian government, court, and other state institutions as a bogey.
Former Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Rama Jois said an 11-judge Supreme Court bench decided that minorities did not receive any special benefits under Article 30 of the Constitution. There is no need for a “right,” only a “protection.” “No organization or person should be given an advantage.” Hindus needed to employ other methods of agitation and building pressure since, in the opinion of Vishnu Sadashiv Kokje, the issue of governmental authority over temples could not be settled in court. K.N. Bhat, a Supreme Court lawyer who represented Lord Ram in the Ram Janmabhoomi case, cautioned that judicial remedies were fraught with uncertainty.
DEMAND TO UNCONTROL TEMPLES FROM THE GOVERNMENT
Religious institutions and places of worship in our nation have contributed significantly to the social and cultural fabric of our nation for millennia. According to data from the 2011 Census, there are roughly 30,00,000 places of worship in the United States as an example (Kishore, 2016). Hindu temples likely make up the majority of these, even though we don’t know their exact number. India has had government authority over temples ever since British rule, a position that was further cemented after independence by a number of state-level laws. All temples under their jurisdiction are currently governed by state endowment organizations. Given their poor performance throughout time in several areas, many have questioned whether it is a good idea to have temples controlled by the government. The demand is for the government to relinquish control over the temples. Court cases have recently been argued, and a private member’s bill has recently been introduced in parliament. In view of the Covid-19 pandemic debate, Hindu religious trusts should enjoy the same freedom from governmental oversight as Muslim and Christian religious trusts do. State governments in India oversee more than 4 lakh temples, but there is no corresponding control over Muslim and Christian religious institutions. The “Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) Act 1951,” which enables state governments to seize and control temples and their properties, is being called for modification.
More than 15 State governments oversee purely Hindu religious establishments, mainly temples, from the selection of temple administrators to the collection of service fees ranging from 13 to 18 per cent. The neighbourhood won’t be able to protect its own best interests as a result. They argue that this is unfair as only the Hindu community is targeted for such discrimination. In this scenario, secularism is violated. Additionally, as stated in the constitution, religious organizations in India cannot be administered by the government.
It is asserted that the British acquired control of the temple’s treasures after the Mughals. By enforcing the HRCE Act in 1951, the Jawaharlal Nehru administration continued its strategy of overseeing temples after India gained independence. This type of supervision is not present in mosques or churches. We also demand that all types of control be removed from temples. Famous Supreme Court attorney J. Sai Deepak urged the government to amend the Act, which he felt was the root of the issue. Tradition holds that the “Raja” (king) has no right to the wealth of the temple. It’s interesting to note that the Supreme Court has mandated in at least three landmark rulings that state governments hand up control of religious organizations to the people. This has not, however, been the case up until this point. Two petitions on this matter are currently being considered by the Supreme Court.
The former chief minister of Maharashtra and well-known Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan recently caused controversy by urging the government to seize all the gold owned by national religious trusts, which he estimated to be worth at least $1 trillion. He claims that gold bonds can be used to borrow gold at low-interest rates. “All religious trusts” is a general word that includes gurudwaras (Sikh) and temples (Hindu and Jains), both of which only accept gold as donations.
The Indian Constitution forbids discrimination based on religion, claims Vinod Bansal, the VHP’s national spokesperson. “However, there remains discrimination when it comes to the management of religious trusts.” I think it’s important to correct the errors that the British and the Nehru administration made in the past. He believed that Hindu religious trusts should be treated equally to Muslim and Christian religious trusts. The “Trust is a legal body,” hence it has reasonable or acceptable legal ramifications as well. A god’s offerings of gold and other materials are cherished as holy items. Since no one has the legal right to give it up in any situation, the gold monetization programme is also a hoax. Any plan to remove religious sites is forbidden by Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution, however, clearly says that nobody has the power to interfere with religious autonomy.
The evolution of the Gold Monetization Schemes was significantly influenced by state control of temples. State governments force temples to sell their gold even when they don’t want to. This issue is caused by state control over temples, which is illegal and discriminatory. Any plan that does not return the capital in gold causes a loss to the community. According to the reports, local governments are in charge of the majority of the temples in South India. The state government of Andhra Pradesh now controls about 34,000 temples. Just 7% of the Rs. 3,500 crore in contributions to the Tirupati Balaji temple were utilized to maintain the shrine. There have been several artefacts found for sale in the UK. As a secular nation, India should treat Hindu temples similarly to mosques and churches, according to one Indian official. From 1840, the British Government started to give up authority over the temples. The most well-known mutts in Tamil Nadu were chosen to represent some of the state’s most renowned temples and shrines.
CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF THE HINDU RELIGIOUS AND CHARITABLE ENDOWMENT ACT
For the purpose of governing Indian democracy, there is a written constitution. Hindus make up the large bulk of the population in this area. Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world, is practised in India. Hinduism features a number of sub-castes, each of which has a unique colour and shape. In terms of caste and sub-caste, there are variances from state to state or area to region. There are also significant differences in how things are done. When Hinduism is at its best, it can be seen as an example of harmony among differences. It is based on ancient texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Geetha, and others. Many people see Hinduism as a way of life. Hinduism, for instance, permits the worship of inanimate objects such as Ashwathavriksha, Nagadevatas, the earth, and the sea. These are but a few examples.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE HINDU RELIGIOUS AND CHARITABLE ENDOWMENT ACT
From 1840, the British Government started to give up authority over the temples. The most well-known mutts in Tamil Nadu were chosen to represent some of the state’s most renowned temples and shrines. When the Mutts assumed control of these temples, they made sure to obtain written assurances, or “Muchalikas,” from the British Government that the temples would never be returned to the Mutts as had been promised.
As a result, the Mutts obtained complete control over and ownership of a number of important temples, which they successfully managed. The Heads of Mutts and officers never lost sight of the fundamental justifications for worship or the usage of funds meant for ritualistic practice and temple upkeep. Hundreds of additional temples in the former Madras Presidency were left up to their various trustees, even though the Mutts managed a handful of them successfully. The previous Government had little to no duty in overseeing them.
The Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, of 1923 was a piece of legislation intended to enhance the management and administration of specific religious endowments (Act I of 1925). According to the Act, there are two different sorts of temples: excepted temples and non-excepted temples. The law was challenged as soon as it took effect on the grounds that it had not been legitimately passed. As a result, the assembly passed the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, of 1926 (Act II of 1927, abolishing Act I of 1925).
There have been several changes made to this statute. There is no need to provide the most recent modifications. Let’s just say that there were ten revisions to the Act by the year 1946: Act I in 1928 (Act V in 1929), Act V in 1929 (Act IV in 1930), and so on. Act XII of 1935, on the other hand, brought about a significant change. The Government did not like the Board’s current powers, so they introduced Ch. VI-A, which allowed the Board the freedom to notify a temple for whatever reason it saw fit. As a result, the Board had established its authority to capture and manage temples before India gained its freedom. The Government’s vile behaviour only affected Hindu institutions.
It is important to note that the Board started the notification process for the Chidambaram Shri Sabhanayagar Temple in 1950 despite orders from the Madras Government to stop the notification process in 1947 and an order from the Hon’ble Madras High Court in 1939 prohibiting the Board from starting the notification process on petty grounds. India became a Republic on January 26, 1950, when it was freed from British rule, and its Constitution gave Indians certain basic rights. Parts of religious denominations gained unique religious and legal privileges. The Board also made an attempt to acquire control of three more temples, all of which are run by Gowd Saraswath Brahmin sects: Guruvayurappan, Udupi, and Mulkipetta’s Shri Venkataramana.
Each of them challenged the authority of the HRCE Board over the aforementioned religious entities. In the meanwhile, a new Hindu religious law known as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951, was passed by the Madras government. Since the Constitution upholds the right of individuals to practice their religion freely, it may seem strange that the government participates in religious organizations through the Statutory Boards. Temples are not mentioned in the Vedic Collection of Hymns and Prayers. In the region where the fire was ignited, it was claimed that sacrifices were made. In the later Brahmana period, temples for the gods were constructed. Due to a growing desire to acquire religious virtue, endowments like land were created for religious purposes at a later age. As a result, Hindu temples are created, funded, and preserved for the benefit of the larger Hindu population. A law was made to better manage, protect, and maintain temples and the endowed properties that are connected to them in order to accomplish goals while adhering to reasonable restrictions that do not restrict religious freedom as guaranteed by the constitution.
From the information provided above, it is evident that India must be free from government control or, at the very least, give believers the chance to manage religious institutions and carry out activities that they desire and are advantageous to the general public; the government should also support this effort as it will reveal which individuals are most qualified to oversee religious institutions. It’s also likely that followers abuse their power as it’s common in India to make money off the names of holy places and many well-known people visit India to take part in this corruption. But the government must at least give the devotees something. Hinduism is one of India’s oldest religions, having existed for countless years. Unless they are directly at odds with the Indian Constitution, these beliefs, rituals, and traditions should be preserved because they have existed for thousands of years. Therefore, even while Article 25 protects the right to practise one’s religion, any religious institution’s poor management and financial irregularities must be dealt with firmly for the sake of maintaining temple discipline. The state must strike a fine balance between upholding temple worshipers and temple administration in accordance with the Indian Constitution. Because the statute is deemed to be discriminatory in this instance, it must be ruled unconstitutional on its whole rather than being partially severed.
The Government should establish a commission for temple affairs that includes all non-Hindu religious leaders, matadipathis, religious experts, social reformers, and other experts in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of The Commissioner, Hindu v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar, and then pass a uniform law in accordance with that decision. Depending on their religious convictions and the fundamental principles of our constitution, the government may also take different regulatory approaches for temples, math, Jain communities, etc.
The legislature, which finally decides whether or not to adopt religious reformative legislation, is in charge of establishing a consistent legal framework for Hindu sects. In accordance with the Constitution, we would defer to the legislature’s decision. Even though it’s crucial to note, we believe it’s proper for the government to outlaw any immoral or corrupt practices in Hindu organizations, if any are there at all. This would be a significant improvement for Hindu temple reform. It was necessary to enact the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowment Act in order to better manage, safeguard, and preserve India’s temples and their endowed properties as well as to carry out its stated purposes within constraints that do not interfere with the right to practice one’s religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
- Need for Government Control over Religious and Charitable Endowment.- Sunder Singh Yadav, Assistant Professor, Government P.G. Law College, Alwar, Rajasthan. In Journal of Advances and Scholarly Researches in Allied Education | Multidisciplinary Academic Research.
- Ronojoy Sen (2007). Legalizing Religion: The Indian Supreme Court and Secularism, East-West centre Washington.
- The National Foundation for Communal Harmony, Secularism and the Law, New Delhi, 2010.
- B.R. Haran, HR & CE Act: A Fraud on the Constitution, bharatabharati.wordpress.com.
- T.R. Ramesh, HR & CE Act
- The Object of the HR & CE Act, www.malabardevaswom.kerala.gov.in.
This article is written by Bhagyashri Neware, doing LLM(2021- 2022) from Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad.