The case against- state control of Hindu temples

Source– The post is based on the article “The case against state control of Hindu temples” published in The Hindu on 3rd January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Significant provisions of Indian constitution.

Relevance– Issues related to secularism in India

News– The article explains the issue of state governments managing the affairs of Hindu religious endowments.

What are the constitutional provisions for state regulating secular activities associated with religious practices?

Article 25(2)(b) empowers the state to provide for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions” to “all classes and sections of Hindus”. Hence, the issue of regulating secular aspects of religious practice is distinct from providing access to worship.

What are the judicial precedents for state management of temples?

In the Shirur Mutt judgement (1954) case, Supreme Court impugned many provisions of the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951. It termed these provisions as “extremely drastic” in character. Even the Advocate General of Madras stated that he “could not support the legality of these provisions”.

The legislature of the erstwhile Madras State enacted in 1954 an amendment Act for removing the defects pointed out by the Supreme Court. Again, the Act was struck down by Madras High Court.

The Orissa Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1939 was struck down by the Supreme Court twice in 1954 and 1956.

What are issues with the state management of temples?

In the guise of administering Hindu religious endowments, the states are interfering in religious affairs. This is more prevalent in Tamil Nadu where temples cannot even conduct pujas as the state has depleted their income.

As per the HR&CE policy note of 2012-13 of Tamil Nadu, Hindu temples own land covering 29 crore sq. ft in area. Its estimated value would be almost ₹10 lakh crore. But the income realised by the Tamil Nadu HR&CE Department is ₹120 crore per year.

The state is silencing temple activists by initiating arbitrary criminal action against them.

The Tamil Nadu HR&CE Department does not even have records of its own executive notifications justifying its management of certain temples.

What is the way forward?

A long line of judicial precedents emphasise that secularism means the state cannot mix with religion. Nothing justifies a state official directing a religious functionary for conducting worship. The purpose should be to involve the community, which has been excluded by the state. The participation of different stakeholders and the building of consensus among them will determine who will take over temples.

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