Patronizing and penalizing of religions by AP Govt. is unconstitutional

via Dr. Jagan Kaul published on August 28, 2006

Open Letter to Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Chief Minister, Andhra Pradesh


 


Subject: Patronizing and penalizing of religions by AP Govt. is unconstitutional: a) massive Govt. grants for Churches are brazen State patronage; b) usurpation of temples and demolition of religious infrastructures are penalization and persecution of Hindus; c) jurisdiction of temples should be transferred to a Waqf- like Hindu Board.


 


Hon’ble Chief Minister Reddy,


 


This memo is being sent to put your administration on notice that by allocating the taxpayers’ funds to patronize a particular religion and its places of worship it is committing flagrant violation of the secular constitution of India by utterly disregarding the policy of “equi-distance” between religion and the state. As is universally understood the state patronage and/or penalizing of religions is against the secular precepts of the Indian Constitution. Whether your ministerial team realizes it or not, this is exactly what is happening in AP under your stewardship. Your govt. has issued a specific GO Ms No. 21, stating that Rs. 80,000 will be provided to each church for repair and renovation purposes, and Rs.1.50 lakh as grant-in-aid for constructing per church. (Attachment A), Thus a central requirement of a secular Govt. system that the churches (religion) will constitute no part of official responsibility has been blown into thin air.


 


On the other hand, your Govt.’s continuing blitzkrieg against Hinduism with massive sale of temple lands, endowed for sustenance in perpetuity, seems to be a policy of systematically bringing down the very foundations of Hinduism.   In furtherance of this policy 85% of temple revenues are illegally transferred to the state exchequer for funding a fat-filled ministry with 77,000 bureaucrats to supposedly manage 33,000 temples while leaving many pujaris penniless and starving, and temples crumbling due to lack of maintenance .


 


It seems that the belligerent AP govt. by taking temples under its control and selling their estates has blatantly disregarded and seriously violated the principle of separation of state and religion. This policy simply translates in to allowing the survival of Hinduism under the mercy, dictates and direction of the state. To put it simply, the pseudo-secularists are taking charge of re-interpreting our faith, reshaping Hinduism and redesigning its future. But sadly enough they do not realize that “discrimination and high handedness” simply breeds disruption, troubles and upheavals for the days to come.


 


Sale of Temple Lands: According to a media report published earlier Mr. Chief Minister, half of the temple lands in the East Godavari District have already been sold, while the remaining 3,000 acres are on the chopping block for auctions “on a war footing” which render all temples in the district totally without any endowment lands for sustenance.  


 


Furthermore, the resolve by the AP Govt. to sell 7,000 acres of endowment temple lands for Rs.20,000 crores, in the first phase of its anti-temple crusade, on a high priority basis with the obvious intent to sell every thing else later, is highly disturbing. This unconstitutional yet arrogant action by the Govt. raises some serious questions about the propriety as well as the authority of the Govt. in its capacity as the trustee of these temples, for unleashing radical measures with devastating consequences, without the consent and/or approval of the Hindu community – the real owners of these temples


 


That such decisions were arrived at after the government’s own endowment department under one or the other pretext concluded that the “land sharks” had no fear of the gods and therefore, were grabbing even the “divine properties” is perhaps the most illogical and silliest explanation any one would expect from a Govt. representative.


 


The fact that even with huge battalions of staff for oversight, the Govt. failed to protect the temple lands from illegal occupation simply proves either incompetence, indifference or both of the authorities in performing their responsibilities. Such an irresponsible establishment cannot and must not be trusted to handle these centuries’ old temples and their estates belonging to the Hindu community


 


Some basic questions: Hon’ble Reddy, there are some basic questions that need to be considered before dealing with this very important religious issue. What legal authority, background, specialization and competence do the govt. operatives possess for controlling every aspect of these Hindu cultural centers?  Why not let an autonomous Hindu board to govern temples under the guidance of religious leaders, just as in other religion formations? The Waqf Board of Muslims and the management of Christian religious institutions who have vast funds, properties and endowments, in addition to the immense flow of foreign funds – yet their autonomy is allowed to remain intact! Why are only the Hindu religious centers and their priests targeted for being brought under the govt. over lordship?  


 


The Govt. is charged with the responsibility of upholding the law but in the present case the state has seriously violated the constitution by : a) denying Hindus  their fundamental ‘Religious Rights’ guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution ( which guarantees public the right to  establish and maintain religious institutions; allows temples to own and acquire movable and immovable properties;  and to administer such properties in accordance with law); and, b)   gross misuse and abuse of state powers under Concurrent List (Article 246 (2) , Seventh Schedule) on religious institutions by unwarranted acquisition of temples and squarely discriminating against Hindu religious institutions.
 
Anticipating possible dishonorable designs of trouble makers in various administrations the Indian Parliament adopted a law in 1991 specifically requiring that –”the status of religious places, as on August 15, 1947 shall be retained”.  A faithful implementation of these laws will require removal of unconstitutional govt. control upon Hindu temples and their estates.
 


 


Utterly disregarding these legal and constitutional considerations, it is baffling to note how the  AP  State legislature passed laws on temples that : a) are violative of the Constitution; b) infringe the clearly expressed will of Parliament;  and, c) are against the universally accepted norms in all free and democratic societies.


 


There are many more similar issues that need to be addressed; they include Govt. plan to take over the well run Chilkur Balaji temple, diversion of TTD funds for non-Hindu non-religious purposes like irrigation bonds, against the wishes of the community, etc.  Any diversion of revenues, major changes in physical  structures, sale/ transfer of lands and properties e.g. the proposal for allocating land for a Church atop Tirumala, the conduct of religious practices or major projects like the “Master Plan” at TTD, must take place only upon the express approval by the community. 


 


The decision of the AP Govt. last year about taking full control of Hindu mutts, and indication of bringing Hindu religious trusts under its draconian control (attachment B) is as much shocking as it is illegal. The proposal to construct a Ropeway at Tirumala for converting it into a tourist center is yet another example to de-Hinduise one of the top shrines in the country.


 


The illegal and highly provocative destruction of the centuries old historic Mandapam at TTD (Tirupathi Tirumala Devasthanam) with official participation is a stark reminder of a deep malaise and the deliberate Govt. crime against Hindu religion and temples thereof. Due to the aggressive anti-Hindu policy pursued by the Govt. there is fast disintegration and de- Hinduisation of Hindu religious infrastructure in AP. To further improve their political fortunes the Naxals are unlawfully giving away the temple lands. The massive land scam in Hathiramji Mutt at Tirumala, and the infamous demolition of 1000 pillar mandapam at Tirumala represent the multiple official strategies that inflict irreparable injury upon Hinduism.


 


How corrupt, dishonest and disgraceful it is that on the one hand the Indian Govt. subsidizes the “Hajj” pilgrimage of the Muslims to the tune of Rs. 200 crores annually and provides Rs. 1000 crores per year for Imams salaries, reservations are provided on the basis of minority status, but on the other the AP authorities are crusading to stealthily destroy the self- supporting foundations and structures of Hindu places of worship under state control.


 


Vital Functions of Temples denied: The temples are not just for rituals by purohits but also the centers of community’s socio-cultural and religious life. They are a place of learning from Acharyas various facets of community sewa, dharma prachar and character building. The exposition of the grandeur of Hinduism – its Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Bhagwad Geeta – its glorious ancient culture, spirituality and values that the community would like to project and propagate – have not only been denied by state control, but the deliberate and irreversible Govt. actions in liquidating perpetual resources of endowments could to the detriment of the community bring these most important aspects of performance to an end. 


 


Hon’ble Chief Minister, for rectifying these historic blunders, may we suggest that representatives of shrines, temples, Hindu community and religious leaders from Dharma Sansad, Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, etc. be motivated to convene an assembly for clearly defining the new legal and organizational framework ensuring community governance of temples and other religious places. This body’s jurisdiction could also include training priests and constructing a religious based curriculum. Such an approach among other things should make the proposed  Board completely autonomous and thereby responsible and accountable for the entire administration,  including planning, executing,  auditing, guiding, investigating and taking corrective steps as and when needed.


 


We welcome the AP Government’s decision to adopt a law to prohibit the preaching of any religion other than Hinduism on the seven sacred hills of Tirumala. The public assurance in this regard by the Endowments Minister, JC Diwakar Reddy, that a Bill to prohibit preaching by non-Hindus in the seven hills of Tirumala would be introduced in the State Assembly during the current session is encouraging. According to him any violators of the proposed law will face both punitive fine and rigorous imprisonment.


 


Hon’ble Chief Minister, may we request you to urgently take a bold step toward the denationalization of temples in the current session of the State Assembly and transfer the responsibility of overseeing temples to a Waqf-like Hindu Board. In regard to the management and governance of Hindu religious institutions the Allahabad High Court’s recent directive to the Central and Uttar Pradesh authorities (attachment C) to prepare a scheme for constituting a Board of the representatives of Hindu religious organizations on the pattern of the UP Muslim Waqf Board could be a guide for AP authorities. This decree by the said judicial authority has been widely acclaimed as a welcome development.


 


Hon’ble Chief Minister, the unconstitutional directive issued by your Govt. for repairs and renovation of abandoned churches and construction of new churches on a massive scale at the expense of the taxpayers is as much illegal and unconstitutional as is the massive demolition of Hindu religious infrastructure. Such a lawless approach for using official tentacles in shaping, altering, patronizing or penalizing religions is a recipe for destroying peace and harmony in the state.  


 


Considering that AP Govt. is extending this patronage to the Christian community despite billions of dollars provided by western Christian organizations for the same purpose renders your move highly questionable. Why should the taxpayers of AP, who for the most part are non-Christians, be made to fund a Christian crusade against their faith spearheaded by a Chief Minister elected on a secular manifesto? Further – a secular Govt. has no authority to either patronize or penalize a religion – then why is the AP Govt. without any constitutional authority engaging in this illegal exercise?


 


May we request you Sir, to immediately stop these illegal initiatives and redress the complaints of the common citizens of your state which include: 


 


1) Follow the law and stop funding construction, repairs and renovations of Churches at taxpayers’ expense, or by money diverted from Hindu endowments and trusts directly or indirectly.

2) Constitute a Waqf like Hindu Board, as decreed by the Allahabad High Court, for overseeing the management of Hindu religious institutions;



3) In order to:  a) ensure transparency,  b) assure that the wishes of the community are heeded, c) temple lands are protected and revenues thereof utilized properly, have the Hindu community appoint a committee, nominated by Acharya Sabha, Dharma Sansad , etc. to oversee the endowment department till the denationalization of Hindu institutions is realized.



As a duly elected representative of the people of AP, we hope you will resolve these issues on a priority basis with confirmation to us.


 


With best wishes, 


Sincerely, 


 


Dr. Jagan Kaul                        August 27, 2006
Krishan Bhatnagar  
Hindu Jagran Forum (USA)
email: [email protected]


 


Note: our previous letters and pleas on temple issues may be seen at http://www.bharatjagran.com/. This letter will be posted there soon


 


==============================================


 


Attachmanet A


 

Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy okays public money for Churches

 

August 23, 2006
Deccan Chronicle


Nizamabad, Aug. 22: Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy has decided to sanction grant-in-aid to old churches for repairs. Similarly, grant-in-aid would be sanctioned to new churches. He is the first chief minister to take the decision to give a facelift to abandoned churches. State Government has issued a specific GO Ms No. 21, stating that Rs. 80,000 will be sanctioned to each church for repair and renovation purposes, and Rs.1.50 lakh for constructing a church in the shape of grant-in-aid.

Repairs and renovation of abandoned churches and constructing new churches would be taken massively in the State. The responsibility to promulgate these orders was allocated to the Minorities Welfare Department.Mr M.S. Parvez, district minorities welfare officer, told this correspondent that the GO was communicated to all 36 mandal parishad development officers of the entire district. According to the GO, the concerned MPDOs could invite proposals for churches from church authorities for repair and renovation, and also invite proposals from church preachers to construct new churches, in their jurisdictions.

He also said that the proposals, which the MPDO receives, should include a blueprint copy of the plan, detailed estimate in original, duly approved by the mandal engineer, a letter of permission and recommendation by the panchayat authorities for the construction of a new church, representation on the letterhead of the Church Committee, documentary evidence of the property of the church in case of new construction. Rev. T. Bhasker, District Churches Council, Nizamabad said that 300 churches were spread over in the district with a 100 year history. Of them, 200 are in poor condition and some churches had already collapsed.


===============================

Attachment B


 

State will take total control of all mutts
Deccan Chronicle, November 24, 2005


Hyderabad, Nov. 23: The State government has decided to take absolute control of Hindu mutts. The proposal has been pending for four years. The State government is also considering bringing Hindu religious trusts under its control. The government is planning to amend the AP Endowments Act to enable the endowments commissioner to oversee the day-to-day administration of mutts.


Once the Act is amended, 181 mutts will come under the control of the endowments commissioner. According to sources, the law department has vetted the proposed amendment. An ordinance amending the Act is expected after the winter session of the Assembly. Another amendment pertains to scrapping the clause which specifies that only officials above the age of 45 should be appointed as endowments commissioner.


This is being done in the wake of the High Court nullifying the appointment of IAS official J.S.V. Prasad as endowments commissioner, since he did not fulfil the age requirement. Mutts such as Hathiramji of Tirupati, Raghavendra of Mantralaya, Byragi of West Godavari and Gavi in Uravakonda in Anathapur, which have assets worth crores of rupees, would come under the control of the government.


This will strip many “financial powers” of the heads of mutts. For instance, “padu kanukalu” (offerings made to deities of temples run by mutts), will now go into a general account. Earlier, they were considered the property of the mutt head. Sources said the government was also keen on bringing wealthy Hindu religious trusts under its control but was yet to take a concrete decision on the matter.


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Attachment C

 

Make Waqf-like board for Hindu religious bodies: HC

 

Press Trust of India
Allahabad, June 6, 2006
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1714562,000900010004.htm

Hindustan Times

The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday asked the Centre and Uttar Pradesh to prepare a scheme for constitution of a Board for Hindu religious organisations on the pattern of the UP Muslim Waqf Board.
Passing the order, Justice SN Srivastava said the Board so constituted shall be an autonomous body and it will register all such religious and charitable establishments and endowments according to the norms represented by mutts, monasteries, temples and religious and charitable trusts or societies, as the case may be, through their heads.

The Centre as well as the state government may also frame schemes for providing minimum wages and other welfare measures for those working in temples, the court added.

The judgement was passed on a writ petition filed by Shree Satya Narain Tulsi Manas Mandir at Varanasi.

The court said that the schemes so framed may be placed before the court on September nine.
The court was of the view that though provisions of Minimum Wages Act were not applicable to temple as it is not an industry, fair wages cannot be denied merely on the ground that the establishment or institution is of a religious or charitable nature or that persons who are engaged are ‘sevadars’ or employees at the pleasure of management.

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