And our Constitution states that ‘ We are a Secular Republic’!!

published on December 25, 2010

Manoj R Nair

A two-year-old campaign to oppose a new law that would give the state power over Hindu religious institutions has been revived by the formation of a new temple federation in the state.

Three weeks ago in Mumbai, opponents of the legislation formed the Maharashtra Temple and Religious Institution Federation (Mandir ani Dharmik Sanstha Mahasangh) which, among other things, will oppose plans to give the state more control over the management and finances of the state’s Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhists shrines.

In the past, the state government has passed separate legislations to take over the administration of three of the biggest shrines in the state — Pandharpur, Shirdi and Siddhivinayak. However, the 15th law commission proposed a single bill to take control of all shrines in the state.

“When the government takes control of single temples, trusts find it difficult to fight the takeover. We have gathered temples under one association to fight the law,” said Ramesh Shinde of Hindu Janjagran Samiti, one of the groups leading the protests against the law.

The proposal to enact the law was first made in 2007. The draft of the new act is ready and, while it unlikely that it will be discussed in the current meet of the state legislature, the state government has made it clear that it proposes to bring in the new act.

Opponents of the proposal were galvanised a few months ago when the then state law minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said that corruption was a problem in temple trusts and that the government has decided to enact the law.

Though the state chief minister later clarified that they were not in a hurry to introduce the legislation in the assembly, the temple federation was formed in response to the government plans.

Opponents of the bill say that it targets only institutions owned by some communities while allowing other groups to manage their religious affairs independently.

While agreeing that temple trusts are often guilty of corruption, they say that government interference is not the solution to the problem.

Chanchal Choudhary of the T G Charitable Trust that manages some of the oldest temples in Mumbai like Mahalaxmi’s Dhakleswar shrine said, “It is strange that at a time when the government is diluting its stake and control in companies, it is interested in running religious institutions.”

Jain groups have joined the opponents as their shrines will also come under the ambit of the law. “This law is interference in the religious affairs of certain communities. We will keep on opposing it,” said Mangalprabhat Lodha, a Jain member of legislative
assembly from Mumbai.

There are around 4,00,000 temples and religious institutions in the state. The new federation is now enrolling members from across the state. Apart from campaigning against the proposed act, the group says that will also restore dilapidated shrines in the state.




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