Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Government meddling in temple affairs


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[prohindu] Hon'ble CM Deshmukh : Community Participation essential for nationalized temple Governance Inbox

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Krishan Bhatnagar
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Jun 5 (21 hours ago)
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Letter to Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh, Chief Minister, Maharashtra

Subject: a) Participation of community in governance is essential for transparency and guidance at nationalized temples of Siddhi Vinayak , Shirdi Saibaba and Sri Vitthal at Pandharpur; b) the proposed Bill to takeover temples violates Constitution and suppresses Hindus human right of religious freedom

Hon'ble Chief Minister Deshmukh,

More than a billion Hindus worldwide are anguished that the '15th Law Commission' of your state could not find a solution within the constitutional parameters for management of temples, similar to the well accepted norms of governance by community Boards, to up hold transparency and accountability. The new bill a virtual draconian law, calling for the sweeping Govt. control of Hindu places of worship exposes the Govt. hypocrisy thoroughly as it leaves the mosques, durgahs, madarassas, and Churches outside its tentacles, obviously for political considerations. (Attachment A). This discriminatory law, through which some 4.5 lakh temples and Hindu religious institutions will be brought under the control of the Maharashtra State, violates the Constitutional mandate of separation of state and religion and is extremely prejudicial to the Hindus human right of religious freedom. These separate sets of laws are being enforced in the face of the Govt. proclamation that it believes in secularism and democracy.

1) Govt. meddling in temples and mismanagement: The conclusions of the inquiry commission headed by Justice Vijay Tipnis into allegations of mismanagement and misuse of funds in the famous Siddhi Vinayak temple should serve as a strong warning against Govt. meddling in temples on a large scale. Such interference could permanently disrupt the Hindu religious infrastructure (Attachment B). To assure transparency and clean management of temples under Govt. control, participation of the community in governance through a Hindu Advisory Council, elected/ nominated by the community or religious organizations like the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha is essential.

2) The proposed Law will ensure totalitarian control of temples by politicians and bureaucrats. According to the proposed 'Maharashtra Temple and Religious Institutions (Administration and Regulation) Bill 2006' (Temple Nationalization Law) , government will assume power to determine how the trust money should be spent : a) The trusts will be required to contribute 8% of its gross income to run the Charity Commissioner's Office as against the current requirement of 2%; b) Out of the three trustees mandated per trust, one will be appointed by the government; c) all income would be placed in a common fund; d) there would be no lifetime trustees and each trustee would be liable (not just the trust); and, e) distributions of donations will have to be approved by the charity commissioner.

3) Flimsy and unsubstantiated charges of improper administration and financial management, and utilization of funds for improper planning are simply the Govt. manufactured tools to assume control over all temples. The expansion of Govt. control is being contemplated in spite of the fact that there is no transparency and accountability in the Govt. management of Sri Siddhi Vinayak temple, Shirdhi's Saibaba Devasthan, and the Sri Vitthal Temple at Pandharpur that are already under the government authority? The mismanagement of the Sri Siddhi Vinayak temple is convincingly uncovered by Justice Vijay Tipnis's Commission (Attachment B). With such a track record, the expansion of the official control upon the remaining temples will only endanger and threaten the well being of the entire Hindu religious infrastructure in Maharashtra.

Unlike the mosques, churches, gurdwaras, pagodas and monasteries the Govt. apparently sees the temples as tourist industry and not as places of worship and faith for crores of Hindus. The politicians and bureaucrats exercising their control over the Trusts spend the money that is offered by the devotees for religious purposes according to their discretion, whims and fancies. They wasted Rs. 24 Lakhs of devotee's money in a seven star hotel on a 2 day seminar- to promote temples as places of tourist interest.

4) Another flimsy reason cited for creating the Law is that thousands of cases concerning Trusts are pending before the Charity Commission. However, the trustees of the Temples and religious institutions cannot alone be held responsible for the lack of progress. The slow moving Govt. machinery and governmental indifference are the main causes for accumulating mountains of unresolved cases. The trustees cannot be held responsible for the slow bureaucratic pace. It is perhaps a deliberate Govt. ploy to take over temples and get more money?

5) Chief Minister Deshmukh ordered the drafting of this new law after a stampede as an eye wash that killed 267 people at Mandradevi Temple in Satara in January 2005. The Maharashtra Govt. has appointed an Enquiry Commission under the chairmanship of Justice Rajan Kocher to enquire into this accident. Then why was it necessary to hurriedly enact this law before the enquiry commission finalized its report identifying the causes of the accident? If as reported the stampede was caused by an electric cable breaking and causing a short circuit, then the Govt. should be held responsible as the arrangements for the pilgrimage are the State's responsibility. The authorities should have been even more vigilant due to the prospect of terrorist attacks on pilgrim centers.

It may be mentioned that not long ago, 50 persons lost their lives in the stampede at the Kumbha Mela in Nasik, the administration of which was the responsibility of the State govt. Similarly, some persons were also killed recently in the stampede at the Jagannath Puri temple, which has also been taken over by the Govt. Such unfortunate events as the stampede at Mandradevi temple, which in reality are the result of failure of the Govt. to execute its responsibility, should not be utilized as grounds to punish the Hindu community as a whole by taking over the temples and religious institutions.

6) The previous state Governor, Dr. Mohammed Fazal, had warned the Govt. against interfering in religious and charitable activities. During that period the Law and Justice Minister of the state Govt., Shri Govindrao Adik, had planned to enforce the 13th Law Commission report for taking over temples and religious institutions. However, this proposal would have affected only temples with income of over Rs. 9 lakhs per year. The Govt. had to shelve the report due to Dr. Fazal's directive. The same directive based on law and secularist philosophy is valid in the present case and therefore, should be adhered to.

7) Here are some basic questions that the state govt. must answer before unleashing its power grabbing scheme: What authority, background and special training the government operatives posses for controlling every aspect of the cultural centers when the concept of secularism - neutrality towards religions - is enshrined in the Indian constitution? Why not allow autonomous Hindu boards to govern temples under the guidance of religious leaders, just as it is permissible in the case of other religions? The Waqf Board of Muslims and the management of Christian religious institutions have vast funds, properties and endowments, in addition to the immense flow of foreign funds - yet their independence and autonomy is left intact!

8) The state authorities seem oblivious that under the provisions of the Indian constitution, controlling, discriminating, managing, reforming or patronizing religions is completely and fully outside the parameters of government jurisdiction. Thus, there is undeniable justification about the allegation of fraud on Hindus by taking over their religious shrines and resources on flimsy and unproven grounds of mismanagement aimed at bringing the progress and propagation of Hinduism to a grinding halt. Further, the intrusion by the authorities in an otherwise autonomous domain could constitute a serious charge against the state itself for being a leading instrument of dismantling Hinduism.

9) Shocking Reverse Discrimination: How discriminatory and constitutionally unsound it is that on the one hand the Indian Govt. subsidizes the "Hajj" pilgrimage of the Muslims to the tune of Rs. 380 crores annually (including subsidy to airlines), provides Rs. 1000 crores per year for Imams salaries, and reservations are made on the basis of religious minority status, but on the other hand the authorities are crusading to destroy the self- supporting foundations and structures of Hindu places of worship by clamping state control upon them. Democratic and secular governments do not patronize or penalize religions. Such extra legal actions constitute a reverse discrimination against the religion of India's majority community.

10) Govt. Control of Temples violates Laws of the Land: The Govt. is charged with the responsibility of upholding the law but in the present case the state would be violating the constitution by robbing the Hindus their 'Religious Rights' guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.

It must be noted that: a) In Karnataka, a division bench comprising of Justice R Gururajan and Justice C R Kumaraswamy struck down the endowment Act stating that the legislation violated Articles 14, 25 and 26 of the Constitution which provided for right to equality, freedom of conscience and freedom of profession, practice and propagation of religion and also the freedom to manage the religious affairs; and b) The Allahabad High Court directed the Central and Uttar Pradesh authorities to prepare a scheme for establishing a Board for Hindu religious organizations on the pattern of the UP Muslim Waqf Board (attachment C) It would be appropriate for the Maharashtra Govt. to follow the judgments issued by these highest judicial bodies.

Anticipating possible dishonorable designs 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". The state Govt. is duty bound to uphold this commitment made by a national law and let the religious places remain outside Govt. Control as they were in 1947. In case of conflicts or contradictions between the state and national laws the national law receives the precedence.

11) Why is Govt. privatizing its services yet nationalizing temples ? Influenced by economic realism and the need for efficient managemant, the governments are currently on a privatization drive for all important Industries. Not only Maruti, Centaur Hotel, but important services like the Electric Supply are also being privatized. With these instances of proven Govt. philosophy or incapability and mismanagement, there is no reason to believe that official control could play a useful role in temple management. This has already been proved in other states as well as the temples under state control in Maharashtra.

12) Govt. control denies temples of their vital Functions: The temples are not just for rituals by purohits but also the centers of community's socio-cultural and religious life, a place of learning with Acharya, for community sewa, dharma prachar and for 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 - would not only be denied by the control of a secular state, but the deliberate and irreversible Govt. actions in liquidating and diverting resources of endowments meant for sustenance in perpetuity could stop these all together. A Hindu Council overseeing the endowments and trusts could also guide the Govt. on such specialized and spiritual mattes that are beyond the realm or competence of a secular Govt.

13) Formation of Hindu Board for autonomous governance, the eventual solution: May we suggest that the representatives of shrines, temples, Hindu community and religious leaders from Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, etc. be motivated to convene an assembly where they could be asked to take charge of clearly defining the new legal framework for the community governance of temples and other religious places in the state. Such a framework should be developed in accordance with the religious needs and the wishes of devotees, donors, Acharyas and the community, who have supported these institutions since ancient times.

Introduction of an all inclusive approach among other things could make the Board completely autonomous responsible for the entire administration including planning, executing, auditing, guiding, investigating and taking corrective steps on any allegations and or complaints as and when needed.

14) The Govt. must allow community participation through Advisory Hindu Councils. Such Councils could play a role in oversight and decision making process of the endowments department, Charity Commission and temple Trusts. The same methodology could apply to the Siddhi Vinayaka, Shirdi Saibaba and Sri Vitthal temples where Councils elected or nominated by the Community and Acharya Sabha could shoulder these responsibilities. Additionally these Councils could also stop desecration and decimation of the religious infrastructure under Govt. control, pending denationalization.

Hindu Community is the real owner: Government must understand that the temples and their endowments have been built over centuries by our forefathers and it is the community which is the real owner and which must have the final say in the management and utilization of temple resource.

15) Hon'ble Chief Minister, Shri Deshmukh, the Maharashtra Govt. must re-examine the need and desirability of adopting the draconian laws that : i) are violative of the Constitution; ii) infringe the clearly expressed will of Parliament; iii) are against the universally accepted norms in all free and democratic societies; and, iv) amount to suppression of Hindus human right of religious freedom

For providing immediate and much needed relief to the Hindu community may we request you for taking the following measures without further loss of time:

a) co-opt Advisory Hindu Councils to guide and oversee management of the endowment department, Charity Commission and temple Trusts, for assuring transparency and fulfilling the vital religious functions according to the wishes of religious organizations and the community till denationalization is realized;

b) Have the proposed Bill withdrawn and retain the status quo for now;

c) take urgent steps to denationalize Sri Siddhi Vinayak temple, Shirdh's Saibaba Devasthan, and the Sri Vitthal Temple at Pandharpur; and,

d) let your Govt. develop a plan, for setting up a Board on the pattern of the UP Muslim Waqf Board, for the management and governance of the Hindu religious institutions in Maharashtra (attachment C);

Before closing we once again emphasize that the denial of freedom to the majority community in managing its places of religious worship and continuing intrusion and imposition of governmental dictates in an otherwise autonomous domain, will justify the charge against your administration of being anti- Hindu and anti- secular.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Dr. Jagan Kaul

Krishan Bhatnagar
Hindu Jagran Forum (USA)
June 05 , 2007


Attachment A

VHP appeals Hindus to revolt against anti-Hindu Bills!

May 11, 2007

Ratnagiri: Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) will be staging agitation through out the State against the Government' ploy to take over management of all temples in the State. A committee has been formed to oppose such take-over. In the meeting held to plan about the future course of action, it was decided to spread the word about the 'take-over' to all Hindus. Hand-bills were distributed on the occasion. 'Nationalization of temples' is a step taken by the State Government against Hindus and all Hindus should revolt and compel the Govt. to withdraw the proposed Bill, it is said in the hand-bill.

It has been mentioned in the said pamphlet that the Govt. is planning to make use of the funds to repay its debts. On the recommendations of the 15th Law Commission, the Govt. is planning to take over temples and religious institutions. Under the proposed Act, the Govt. will have the power to immediately dissolve any trust and take over its management. Thus donations made by Hindus will be controlled by the Govt.

The 'secular' Govt. has thus taken anti-Hindu action and has left all mosques, durgahs and madarassas registered with Wakf Board so also churches from the purview of the proposed Act. There are ample instances of malpractices in managing the funds of temple trusts like Sree Siddhivinayak Temple which are under the control of the Government. Then how will the Govt. manage 450000 temples?

Source: ' Daily Sanatan Prabhat


Attachment B

Siddhivinayak Trust Scam

All Siddhivinayak devotees should remember that Maharashtra Govt. took over the Siddhivinayak trust in 1981. Maharashtra Govt. appoints custodians and trustees for the temple to manage its activities. Donations made by devotees in Millions rest in the hands of these appointed trustees.

The Donations from the devotees are being misused as per the whims and fancies of the trustees and Government. Millions of rupees are siphoned of into companies owned by Ministers, for their use. While this matter was sub-judice, the trustees blew up Millions on their meetings in 7 stars hotels! Is blowing up the hard earned money of devotees, not a cruel mockery of democracy?

The Tipnis report: Siddhivinayak temple fraud synopsis

Shri Keval Semlani, a local resident of Prabhadevi had filed a litigation in 2003 against the temple trust accusing the trust of giving away huge donations to organistions owned by politicians.

Organisations mentioned in the litigation by Mr. Semlani and donations received from Siddhivinayak temple trust :

1. Dada Undalkar Smarak Samiti - Rs. 86 Lakhs
2. Shikshan prasarak Mandal Kankavli - Rs. 50 Lakhs
3. Sindhudurg Prasarak Mandal - Rs. 50 Lakhs
4. Shivtej Arogya Seva Samiti - Rs. 50 Lakhs.

The High Court appointed a special enquiry committee led by Shri Vijay Tipnis, ex-magistrate, to examine the monetary affairs of the Siddhivinayak temple trust. The Report submitted by the committee exposed the trust and its corrupt affairs to the world.

Government Nationalized the Siddhivinayak temple trust according to a new law in 1981. This law entitles a committee of 11 members to control functioning of the trust. However, the selection criteria for posts of treasurer, President are not specified.

Present Treasurer : Mrs. Vijaya Patil (Characteristic : She herself is an Atheist)
Chief Executive Officer(?!) : Shri Sanjay Bhagwat (Attitude devotees are customers!) (He is not CEO now - editor)

These people who have been selected out of personal contacts of the ruling parties have now been proven to be beneficiaries of the ruling Sonia Congress and Nationalist Congress parties.
Directions to use of temple funds

The law mentions that the temple Funds must be first used for maintenance and repairing of temple premises and idol. Secondly, it should be used for providing facilities to devotees. Thirdly, If any amount remains, it should be used to construct restrooms for devotees and with permission of the Government, may be used for monetary help to educational organisations, hospitals and dharmic organisations only. Lastly, there is a special mention that prior to donating, the temple trust must be able to prove that the Funds are Surplus.
A summary of corrupt affairs of the trust

Siddhivinayak ttrust has become a personal "Jagir" for the ministers - Tipnis Report

� 600 applications for donations have been lying since 1994.

� Subsequent to the trust's decision to reject any applications before 2000, since 2001, 364 applications have been considered out of which several have been given, several rejected and several shortlisted donations have never been given.

� Eligibility criteria and reason for donations have not been mentioned in any of the donations made.

� Donations have been made solely on the recommendations and personal contacts of certain political references. This has been the only major criterion in many cases.

� Some donations have been made urgently avoiding the formal protocols whereas some donations inspite of being approved stand delayed!

� Involvement of politicians: Some names mentioned in the Tipnis Report.

o Shri. Narayan Rane(Congress): Previously Shiv Sena MLA and former Chief Minister but now a Congress MLA.

o Shri. Vilasrao Deshmukh: Maharashtra's present Chief Minister

o Shri. Govindrao Adik: Then law and justice minister

o Shri. Dilip Sopal

� Disobedience of the High Court: The High Court passed an order after Keval Semlani litigation prohibiting Siddhivinayak temple trust from giving out any donations. Inspite of that several hundred donations have been made indiscriminately after the court's decision.

� Legal Minister's illegal affairs: No fixed protocol, no System has been followed in the case of accepting applications for donations. Donations have been mostly accepted for Organisations linked with prominent political figures. The clause 18 (3) which states that no trust should give away donations without explicitly stating reasons thereof. Nowhere in the case of Siddhivinayak trust Donations, have the reasons been mentioned and the Government has never objected.

� As per the trust law, every 3 years a new committee of trustees is elected. In the period between 3rd November 2003 and August 2004, 4 trustees namely Smt. Vijaya Patil (favored by Shri. Govindrao Aadik, Minister), Ravi Bhandari, Sadanand Mandalik and Ravi Goenka. The biggest corruption frauds have happened in this period. Although this committee had provisioned Rs. 5 Crores for Donations for the fiscal 2004-05, in reality, more than Rs. 7.5 crores were given out in donations during the year, for which deposits were debitted from the trust's Balance Sheet causing a cost of interest of Rs. 2 lacs.

� Shri. Vijay Tipnis has stated in his report that temple trust Staff is neither sufficiently qualified nor motivated to take good care of devotee's and visitor's needs.

� Finally the Report alleges that the State Ministers do not supervise but utilise the temple trust for their own personal benefits. The trust has become a personal "Jagir" for the ministers.

Quote: ''The most shocking aspect of the matter is that there is no method or principle followed for particular institutions. The only criteria for selection was recommendation or reference by trustees or the minister or a political heavy-weight, generally belonging to ruling party'' the committee said in the report submitted to the Bombay High Court. (Ref: UNI news)


Attachment C

Make Waqf-like board for Hindu religious bodies: HC

Press Trust of India
Allahabad, June 6, 2006,000900010004.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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