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Tax the temples

There’s no reason why religious bodies won’t like to share their wealth with those who could use it.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2011 22:47 IST

Unlike, say, Switzerland, India isn’t rolling in wealth. Even as we trip GDP figures off our tongue, a country is deemed wealthy not when it has plenty of rich people but when it has no one mired in poverty. Tough scenario for a country for a billion-plus people but with India home to enough folks not getting a square meal a day, there is something awry about a temple in Kerala sitting on a treasure trove supposedly worth ‘Rs 1 lakh crore’ — that is Rs 1,000,000,000,000.

Oh, we know the sanctity of the right to own your wealth and spend it (or not) in whatever manner you choose. But the Sri Padmanabha Swami temple in Kerala, now unofficially considered the richest temple in the country, isn’t exactly just a fixed deposit that will take care of a family’s Bugatti bills, or even the local mandir or gurdwara providing succour to souls with a cash flow on the side.

In fact, such temples are gargantuan vaults of tax-free wealth. So how about dismantling what are essentially parallel economies by opening these vaults up and use the money to set up private schemes that can bring material comforts to the poor? Sure, many of these religious institutions have social sch-emes already running. But clearly, much more needs to be done.

If the incentive for such a move is lacking from the trusts of these temples or mosques, why not consider taxing these institutions? The purpose of taxing people much less wealthy than those who own the wealth of the Padmanabha Swami temple is to bring about some amount of redistribution of wealth through building public facilities such as roads and power stations. With the temples having enough money to spare, surely being a charitable body won’t make them stingy about spreading the cash for public good? Especially, since they should be happy to share their wealth in good faith for the purpose of making India a truly rich country.