Explained: Why CM Bommai is talking of freeing Karnataka temples from govt control

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“Currently, Hindu temples in the state are under different types of control. Temples that have suffered at the hands of bureaucrats will be freed. We will bring a law giving rights to temple managements to look after their own development,” he said.

The numbers

Karnataka has about 34,563 temples under the state’s Hindu Religious Institutions And Charitable Endowments Department, or the Muzrai Department. Of them, 205 fall under Category A, which covers temples with annual revenues more than Rs 25 lakh; 139 under Category B, for those with annual revenues between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 25 lakh; and the rest under Category C.

A senior official said that in 2018-20, the A and B category temples earned Rs 1,383.63 crore. The Covid-19 lockdown saw a steep fall in revenues. The data for 2021 is being compiled.

Under the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act and Rules, after deducting their expenditures, the A and B grade temples are supposed to contribute 10% and 5% of their funds respectively to the Muzrai Department. The money is to be used for development of the temples.

During the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government, there were allegations that the revenue generated from temples was used for development of other religious institutions. This charge has gained strength, said a source, as the auditing of temple funds has been an issue for a long time.

A source in the Muzrai Department said that while temples which generate large revenues would be happy about the decision, the move is going to hit the ones that earn less as they are dependent on government support.

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In 2020-21, the Muzrai Department sanctioned about Rs 208.29 crore for development of temples across the state. Of this, Rs 15.33 crore, the highest, was allotted to former chief minister B S Yedyiurappa’s home district.

The demand

Hindu outfits in the state, as in many other parts of the country, have been seeking that temples be freed of government ‘control’. In Uttarakhand, the BJP government recently cancelled a decision to bring 51 shrines under a board.

Welcoming the move, Pramod Muthalik, head of the Rashtriya Hindu Sena, said the money donated by devotees should be used only for development of temples and was currently being misused.

On the 34,000 temples which earn less than Rs 5 lakh annually and hence need government funds, Muthalik said: “Let the government come up with the Bill. I shall comment then.”

Opposing the move, Congress state president D K Shivakumar said temples are assets of the State and a source of revenue, and the party would counter the Bill. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said: “Most temples are already independent. Only some are with the Muzrai Department. The decision is okay if in the interest of the people. However, Bommai has said so keeping in mind the elections. That is the problem.”

The timing

Brought in as a replacement for Yediyurappa, Bommai is on a shaky wicket in the state. The endorsement of the recent state executive committee of his leadership might have quelled the voices against him, but this might not last. The temple plans is just the latest bid by the leader who comes from a socialist background to strengthen his Hindutva credentials, after the recent anti-conversion Bill and his tacit silence on moral policing incidents.

The ‘richest’ temples as per 2019-20 revenues

Kukke Subramanya temple, Subramanya: Rs 99.82 croreMookambika temple, Kollur: Rs 45.65 crore
Chamundeshwari temple and temples in the palace under Muzarai Dept, Mysuru: Rs 35.23 crore
Durga Parameshwari temple, Kateel: Rs 25.42 croreSri Srikanteshwara temple, Nanjangud: Rs 20.80 crore
Renuka Yellamma temple, Savadatti: Rs 16.77 crore
Durga Parameshwari temple, Udupi taluk: Rs 11.43 crore
Banashankari temple, Bengaluru: Rs 9.04 crore
Siddalingeshwara temple, Yediyur: Rs 6.93 crore
Ghati Subramanya swamy temple, Doddaballapura: Rs 8.20 crore

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