The Bodh Gaya temple management committee would be headed by the district magistrate (DM) of Gaya even if the IAS officer holding the post belongs to a non-Hindu community.
The provision was made through the Bodh Gaya Temple (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which was passed by the state assembly on Tuesday through voice vote amidst vociferous protests and subsequent walkout by the opposition BJP members.
Earlier, as per provisions of the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949, the government used to appoint a Hindu as head of the temple management committee whenever a non-Hindu IAS officer was posted as Gaya DM.
Piloting the bill, chief minister Nitish Kumar said, the amendment was obligatory as India was declared a secular country in 1976, when the word "secular" was inserted into the preamble by the 42nd amendment in the Constitution.
"Our Constitution prohibits discrimination against members of a particular religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. So, it was expedient upon the government to amend sub-section (3) of section (3) of the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949, which prohibits a non-Hindu DM to become the head of the temple management committee," Kumar said.
Kumar said, representatives of several Buddhist organizations had been demanding that the management of the temple be handed over to them. "But I have been consistently resisting it, because there is no need to alter it as long as the temple management is properly handled by the committee comprising four members each of Hindu and Buddhist communities," he said.
Kumar, however, said the amendment had become imperative since the Bodh Gaya Temple Act was passed in 1949, much before the country was declared secular. "In a secular country, a DM is a representative of the government and he or she is expected to be above the considerations of caste or creed," he added.
He said the discrepancy was also pointed out to him by chairman of the national minorities commission Wazahat Habibullah during a recent meeting. "Moreover, at least two cases are pending in the Supreme Court and the state government has already filed affidavits in this regard," he said.
Earlier, leader of opposition Nand Kishore Yadav contended, that there was no need to bring this amendment, as the managements of the Hindu, Jain, Shia and Sunni trust boards were headed by persons of their respective communities. "This move will create hostility and tensions in the society," he added.
RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqqui also opposed the bill and suggested, that the temple management should be handed over to the Buddhists. Congress and CPI members, however, supported the bill.