Bill for Govt control over temples in Kerala House

via Daily Pioneer published on March 22, 2010

Disregarding vehement objections raised by Hindu organizations and other outfits, the CPI(M)-led LDF Government in Kerala on Monday moved the controversial Devaswom Bill in the State Assembly. Stating that it did not have “any role in this blood”, the Opposition walked out of the House after Devaswom Minister Kadannappally Ramachandran presented the Bill to the House.

Hindu organizations and community outfits allege that the Travancore-Kochi Hindu Religious Institutions (Amendment) Bill is intended at enabling the Government to have total control over the affairs of Hindu temples in the State. There are provisions in the Bill that enable the Government to review the decisions of the Devaswom Boards (temple-administration bodies). It is also feared that the Bill, now limited to Hindu temples, could pave way for similar legislations to control places of worship of other religions also.

When Kadannappally Ramachandran of the Congress (S), whom the CPI(M) had enthroned as Devaswom Minister in August last by taking the Portfolio away from party Minister G Sudhakaran, moved the Bill in the House, the Congress-led Opposition registered its protests saying the Government should first seek to build a consensus among all the concerned parties through discussions. Opposition leader Oommen Chandy, who wanted the Government to review the decision, pointed out that the Bill would not stand the test of the Constitution.

As the Minister presented the Bill, Congress members Aryandan Muhammad, VD Satheesan, Thiruvanchaoor Radhakrishnan and KC Joseph and KM Mani of the Kerala Congress (M) gave objection notices against it. But Kadannappally held fast to his decision, saying the objections from the Opposition could be considered in the Subject Committee. Chandy reminded the Minister of his own promise to discuss the Bill with Hindu organizations, but Kadannappally said the Centre had already given its go-ahead to the legislation. Chandy demanded material evidence for this.

After heated exchanges, the House left the Bill for consideration by the Subject committee. Though the Opposition demanded that the Bill be sent to the Select Committee, this was rejected by voting. Later, the Opposition members walked out of the House saying they did not want to share the responsibility for the amendment.

The Bill seeks to raise the number of members from three to seven in the Travancore and Kochi Devaswom Boards, which administer almost all the Hindu temples in southern and Central Kerala respectively. Hindu organizations and political observers say that this is to enable all partners in the coalition to get memberships in the boards. As per the present system, the CPI(M) takes the post of the board president while RSP and CPI get a member’s post each.

However, the crucially serious aspect of the Bill is the fact that it aims to give more controls to the Government on the affairs of the Devaswom Boards by allowing it to review the decisions taken by the boards at any time. At present, the Government does not have any powers over the decisions of the Devaswom Boards.

Nair Service Society (NSS), the influential outfit of the influential Hindu upper caste Nairs, has warned the Government against going ahead with the plan to pass the Bill but the CPI(M) decision is to disregard the NSS warning. Kadannappally had reportedly brought up the issue of NSS objection at last week’s LDF meeting but the CPI(M) took a position that objections could be considered by leaving the Bill to the Subject Committee after moving it in the House.

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