Who Owns Temple Lands
         Date: 19-Jul-2018
Time has come for the Government of India to do away with the Hindu endowment Act and hand over the temples to the Hindu groups and hereditary trustees so that they can take care of the temples and protect them without any damage to the sanctity of the temples
 
Dr Duggraju Srinivasa Rao
 
Who owns the Temples, temple lands and temple properties has been the recurring question ever since India adopted a pseudo-secular policy through its Constitution. Though India claims to treat all religions equally irrespective of their beliefs, the Acts enacted and policies adopted are basically pro minority religions thus hitting the interests of the majority community. The statements made and the actions taken by the governments are always discriminatory hurting the interests of Hindus. The classic example is the way the Temples, Mosques and Churches are treated by the governments. While the ownership, administration and maintenance of religious places and religious properties is entrusted to the religious bodies of minority religions, the temples and their properties are not left to the Hindu bodies but are treated as the properties of the government. Since governments treat endowment department like any other department and take decisions without caring for the sentiments and sanctity associated with the temples and treat the lands of the temples as the lands of government and deliberately misuse the authority and trample the rights of the temples’ properties, Hindu religious bodies and temple trustees are often forced to knock at the door of courts involving the lengthy unavoidable litigation. The temple trusties and the Hindus are made to bear the legal costs from their own pockets while the governments are lavishly spending public money. Again the majority tax payers are Hindus in this country, to fight against the interests of Hindus and their temples.
The High Court of Hyderabad with its legal power vested in both the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana headed by the acting Chief Justice Justice Ramesh Rangarajan and Justice J. Uma Devi said the “endowment land is not government land” and the bench also expressed its unpleasantness where by the court is forced to remind the issue so many times. The bench made it very clear that “You have wrongly learned that all the endowment lands be it temple land or wakf land, are government lands. You have to unlearn first”.
 

 
 

People protesting against the demolition of the temple for Road Widening

The case relates to the land of Amareswara Temple in Amaravathi which was acquired by the Government of Andhra Pradesh 16 years ago to build a social welfare girls hostel without compensating the Temple. This is violation of earlier orders of the high court, the present bench said. As the high court stated the government have to take the permission of the High Court before giving away any endowment land to a third party. Now that the new Land Acquisition Act 2013 is in force the State should follow the rules governing compensation under the Act. The High Court bench headed by acting Chief Justice Ramesh Rangarajan and Justice J Uma Devi ordered the payment of 24 Lakh per acre along with 24 per cent interest per annum for the four acres of land acquired and failing to that within a period of two months the State Government of Andhra Pradesh should take disciplinary action against the concerned authorities.
 
The judgement which came out in the last week of June becomes significant as that takeover of the temple lands without the payment of compensation happened when Chandrababu Naidu was the Chief Minister of combined Andhra Pradesh and Chandrababu Naidu’s attitude towards Hindu temples and their properties continues to be negative even after the state is bifurcated and he took over the reins of the truncated state.The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu cares little for the Hindu sentiments and views of Hindu pontiffs and is behaving in high handed ignoring the saner suggestions of elders and community leaders. That is evident from the way he destroyed nearly 50 temples in the name of development and road widening during the Krishna pushkarams in the city of Vijayawada. Not only that the temple was not shifted from its original place when public interests demanded, but the way they were demolished with least respect to the sanctity of idols and the way they were carried by cranes with iron chains in the necks of idols, the way the idols were thrown in dumping yards is what being objected to by the Hindu society.
 
Chandrababu Naidu cares little for the Hindu sentiments and views of Hindu pontiffs That is evident from the way he destroyed nearly 50 temples in the name of development and road widening Hindu society demands that the existing properties of the temples should be put in the public domain. Every temple premises should exhibit the list of the properties belonging to that temple and the present position of those lands and if under occupation, the names of the occupants
 
 
Another serious charge made against Chandrababu administrations is its failure to clear the dargas and mosques when the road widening actually demanded the demolition of those structures thus allowing the religious structures of Muslims and Christians to continue as they are, including those whose constructions was made illegally on the occupied lands. The utter lack of respect to the Hindu sentiment is further evidenced in the way thechairman of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) board appointed was made. The one who is appointed as chairman is the one with established connections to the Christian missionaries, though the High Court upheld his appointment, the Hindu society in the state continues to doubt his Hindu credentials as he is often seen in the TTD Board meetings without ‘tiru naamam’ (sacred symbol of Lord Venkateswara) the wearing of that symbol is mandatory for the servants of Lord Venkateswara.
 
The Hindu society is fighting to protect their sacred places, the Temples, from the non-believers who are enjoying the political patronage in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is through such non-believers who were nominated to the temple boards by the Chandrababu Naidu Government, that the Government is away the lands of the temples. This was brought to the notice of the High Court of Hyderabad and the bench headed by acting Chief Justice Ramesh Rangarajan and Justice Shammeem Akthar in their judgement has stated that “Alienation of lands through mutual agreement between the temple authorities and government institutions and others would not be allowed”.
The modus operandi of Chandrababu Naidu goes like this. First, using his position as Chief Minister he appoints his yes men as Chairmen of the temples and then through a resolution passed in the boards of the temples the government gets the lands and then the government uses them to suit their politics of grabbing and making money. There are many instances where temple lands were alienated to political people who illegally occupied them. The state of Andhra Pradesh had in the past a huge scandal in Simhachalam Temple lands where hundreds of crores were made by the politicians through their blatant violation of rules and after occupying of temple lands. Every day there appears media reports where temple properties are destroyed, stolen or occupied and the endowment department maintains a silence on that. Those occupied lands are later regularised by the government. The beneficiaries are those who are close to the power centres where as the loss is for the Hindu society.
 
The lands were donated to the temples by the Kings, Zamindars and even ordinary devotees for the upkeep of the temples and to support the regular ‘poojas’ and to meet the expenditure on priests of the temples. Some endowments were given to feed the devotees visiting the temples, maintain cows, and run ‘Veda Pathasalas’. It is to boost these activities related to temples that devotees still drop money in temple ‘Hundis’. This was the tradition for over many centuries as the temples are seats of learning and training centres for classical dances, many forms of arts, sculpture. Temples are the podiums of philosophy and the places from where great thinkers, reformers, saints delivered the sermons for the well-being of the public. Poor and deserving were served food on all days. Culture grew in temples, traditions were established by the temple administrators. Thus they are the centres for finest exhibition of the community activity.
 

 
 
Instead of taking their historical significance and religious importance based on the holiness and spirituality, value of sculpture, antiquity, the Andhra Pradesh endowment policies are being categorised and administered on the temples on the basis of income they generate. As per the present policy in Andhra Pradesh any temple which earns less than 15 lakhs per annum is not taken care of by the endowment department. The rulers eye only such temples which are giving them income as they are more interested in the money and not on the maintenance of temples in their original form. The temples are systematically destroyed financially by taking away their age old properties. The temple lands are occupied under the political patronage. The case in point is the Simhachalam Temple lands, in the Visakhapatnam district. While the government is duty bound to protect temple lands it purposefully allowed its workers to grab the temple lands, occupy and even sell making huge money. This kind of land grabbing by the land mafia is happening in areas which are close to the developing town and cities where their real estate is booming. In Simhachalam, which is close to the biggest city of Andhra Pradesh on the coast and termed as the city of destiny, the government of Andhra Pradesh not only failed to make the illegal occupants vacate the temple lands but directed its standing counsel representing the case in the High Court to propose an alternative land allotment in faraway place. This way the government itself is standing in favour of illegal occupants of temple lands. This is being done because the illegal occupants are the men of ruling parties and are treated as the vote bank of the ruling party.
 
This sorry state of affairs on the temples and their lands may not only restrict to the Andhra Pradesh but worse things may be happening in other states as politicians are politicians irrespective of their political affiliation. It is in this context that the Hindu society demands that the existing properties of the temples should be put in the public domain. Every temple premises should exhibit the list of the properties belonging to that temple and the present position of those lands and if under occupation the names of the occupants just as the photos of the bank loan defaulters are displayed in the papers. This is the only way to shame the illegal occupants who are illegally holding the properties ofthe God.
 
Time has come for the Government of India to do away with the Hindu endowment Act and hand over the temples to the Hindu groups and hereditary trustees so that they can take care of the temples and protect them without any damage to the sanctity of the temples.
 
(The writer is Vijayawada based freelance journalist)