Why can’t temple funds be used for public good?, Supreme Court observes | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Why can’t temple funds be used for public good?, Supreme Court observes

By, New Delhi
Sep 02, 2022 01:03 AM IST

While the PIL raised the issue of Hindus being “singled out”, with the state governments managing temples and their earnings, the top court raised doubts over the necessity of revisiting the 1863 Religious Endowments Act when the legislation, it commented, has facilitated temples to cater to “larger needs of the society”.

Since all temples’ earnings are from people they may well go back to them by way of setting up colleges and universities, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday while questioning the justification of a public interest litigation (PIL) that pressed for the right of Hindus to manage religious places without government interferences, like Christians and Muslims.

Since all temples’ earnings are from people they may well go back to them by way of setting up colleges and universities, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday while questioning the justification of a public interest litigation (PIL) that pressed for the right of Hindus to manage religious places without government interferences (HT File)
Since all temples’ earnings are from people they may well go back to them by way of setting up colleges and universities, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday while questioning the justification of a public interest litigation (PIL) that pressed for the right of Hindus to manage religious places without government interferences (HT File)

While the PIL raised the issue of Hindus being “singled out”, with the state governments managing temples and their earnings, the top court raised doubts over the necessity of revisiting the 1863 Religious Endowments Act when the legislation, it commented, has facilitated temples to cater to “larger needs of the society”.

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“What is the need for this? This has been functioning for such a long time...If it is a receipt of the temple, it is by the people. So, it has to go back to the people. Take the example of Tirupati, you have colleges there...Universities are set up in Delhi by state enterprises. What’s wrong with that?” the bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Uday Umesh Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat asked.

Also read: S Jaishankar visits the first Hindu temple site in middle east during UAE visit

The bench further remarked: “This Act has been working since 1863. We have a history of 150 years where these denominations catered to the larger needs of society and not for their purpose only. Some temples have even given their lands. Now, you are asking us to roll the clock back,” the bench told senior lawyers Arvind Datar and Gopal Sankaranarayanan.

The lawyers were representing petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay, an advocate and a former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson who contended that Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs should have similar rights to establish, manage and maintain their religious places like Muslims, Parsis and Christians and that the state cannot abridge this right.

The PIL complained that approximately 400,000 out of 900,000 temples in the country are under government control, whereas there is not a single church or mosque-related religious body where any control or interference of the government is seen. Religious endowments come under the concurrent list, authorising both the Centre and the states to frame their laws whereby states can exercise a degree of control over management, superintendence and levy over the religious places.

For example, Tamil Nadu has such a law in place. All hundi collections from temples are deposited in the designated temple bank accounts. Of this, 14% is used by the government as administration fees, 4% as audit fees and between 4 to 10% as the ‘Commissioner Common Good Fund’. Further, money is transferred to various government-run schemes.

Also read: Pune’s ‘special’ Lord Ganesh temples

Citing the Tamil Nadu law, Datar complained that similar laws have been framed by some other states, including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, empowering state governments to use the temple income for non-temple or merely administrative purposes. Supporting him, Sankaranarayan added, “If the church is going to be proximate to one religion, there will be a problem,” said the senior lawyer, claiming 15,000 temples have been closed down in Karnataka since they had no money and temple lands are being frittered away.

But the bench asked the lawyers to adduce some materials to corroborate regarding the closing down of temples as well as to support other contentions on alleged misappropriation of money. It then fixed matter for hearing next on September 19.

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