The preamble of the Indian Constitution claims that India is a “secular” state. The definition of secularism is, literally, the separation of Church and state. The State shall not interfere in religious matters, nor would it fund religion.
Indian secularism, has, perversely been defined as its exact opposite. The state has no qualms in interfering in Hindu practices. It is equally has no problems in liberally funding the Church.
Even in a dominant Christian country like the US, the government funding for church construction, repair, or renovation would be considered illegal. Funding for a “minority” religious institution would be both illegal and unheard of. Yet, in India, which avows its “secularism” state governments unabashedly fund the renovation of churches.
In this IndiaFacts exclusive, we document the funding of Churches by the Karnataka government based on detailed RTI documents. The Karnataka state government has been spending crores of rupees (of the tax-payer’s money) for the support and expansion of Christianity, including the renovation of existing churches and construction of new Christian community halls. In contrast the Karnataka government confiscates crores of donations made at Hindu temples, using only a small fraction of it for temple maintenance. This is nothing other than State support for one religion while working to destroy another, the very antithesis of a secular state.
What the RTIs asked
Four RTI’s were filed on 26 March 2016 making four specific queries with respect to the Government Order- MWD.318MDS2011 dated 16/01/2012, and regarding the funding of Churches from the Minorities Department of the Karnataka state government. The RTI queries (as shown in Image 1 attached below) were as follows:
Image 1: Copies of four RTI queries filed with Minorities Department, Karnataka
- What is the year-wise funds provided by the government of Karnataka for the repair/renovation/development of existing churches?
- What are the details (name, address, etc.) of the various Christian minority organizations/churches/entities/associations that have received funds from the government of Karnataka for the repair/renovation/development of existing churches?
- What is the year-wise funds provided by the government of Karnataka for the construction of new churches?
- What are the details (name, address, etc.) of the various Christian minority organizations/churches/entities/associations that have received funds from the government of Karnataka for the construction of new churches?
What the Government responded
In response to the four RTI queries, the government furnished documents regarding:
- The amount of government funding given towards repair and renovation of the existing churches during the years- 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16, along with details of the churches and Christian organizations that received the funding.
- The amount of government funding given towards construction of new ‘Samudaya Bhavana’ (Community Halls) for the Christian community during the years 2013-14 and 2014-15, along with Christian organizations that received the funding.
- The document of the Government Order- MWD.318MDS2011
The government response did not contain any documents regarding either renovation of existing churches or construction of new Samudaya Bhavana for the year 2012-13. Also, funding details for the construction of Samudaya Bhavana for the year 2015-16 is missing from the RTI replies, though it is available at the Directorate of Minorities website here.
What the Government Order(s) say
The government order (GO)- MWD.318MDS2011 dated 16/01/2012 says that the government will provide financial assistance for the repair and renovation of existing churches in Karnataka in order to encourage the minority Christian community of the state. (The order can be accessed here) The money will be given for the repair and renovation of existing Churches, and for the construction of compound walls around the existing Churches.
According to the order, only registered churches can apply for government assistance in proper format, along with an estimate amount required and the state government will decide the final amount to be given in assistance. The GO clearly says that the state government should not give funding to churches, which have not registered either under Indian Trusts Act, or under Karnataka Society Registration Act; whose documents have been falsified, or whose activities are suspicious, and whose members have spent the government funding on purposes different than for which the funding was given.
Further, the GO says that the church must finish its renovation and repair work within six months of receiving the money and only under special cases it can be extended up to one year (and in few exceptional cases, beyond one year). The government is supposed to give money in two installments, the second installment being given only after an inspection and approval of the progress of the renovation work. Further, the government may conduct an inspection of financial documents and other activities of the churches and in case any church is diverting the money for other activities, then they are liable to return the entire amount back to the state government.
It is important to note that this GO speaks only about the repair and renovation of the existing churches (along with construction of compound walls around existing churches) and does not make any reference to the construction of the new churches or other Christian community buildings. The reference to the latter can be found in another Government Order- asamkaE.70MDS2011, dated 19/09/2011.
This GO- asamkaE.70MDS2011, is actually the foundational government order based on which the GO- MWD.318MDS2011 for repair and renovation of existing churches was issued in 2015. This GO- asamkaE.70MDS2011, also forms the basis for another government order GO- MWD.351MDS2014 issued on 25/02/2015.
According to GO- asamkaE.70MDS2011 (which can be accessed here), the GO was issued after the then state government decided (i.e. 2011) to spend 50 crore rupees for the welfare of the Christian community. The amount was stipulated to be spent on the Construction of Community Halls, Repairs and Renovation of Churches, providing basic necessities to orphanages, old age homes, providing various trainings under Skill Development Programmes, providing scholarships and incentives to Christian students through the Directorate of Minorities, etc. Out of the stipulated 50 crore rupees, 10 crores was set aside for construction of new Samudaya Bhavana (community halls) for the Christian community and 5 crores was set aside for repair and renovation of existing churches. The GO stipulates that the amount given in each case, be it the construction of a community hall or renovation of an existing church, should not exceed 10 lakh rupees and any excess amount required by the churches for the said purpose should be arranged by them on their own.
It is to be noted that GO- asamkaE.70MDS2011– dated 19/09/2011 placed a restriction on the maximum amount (=10 lakhs) that could be given to a particular activity (be it construction of a community hall or renovation of an existing church) by any church or Christian organization. But, this restriction was modified with respect to the repair and renovation of existing churches through a new GO- MWD.351MDS2014 dated 25/02/2015.
According to this new GO-MWD.351MDS2014 (which can be accessed here), the financial assistance given the repair and renovation of the existing churches will depend on the age of the existing church and amount given may go up to 50 lakh per church. The new GO stipulates that for heritage churches, which are older than 50 years, the amount of government assistance will 90% of the renovation cost or 50 lakhs, whichever is lower. For churches, whose age is between 25 and 50, the government assistance will be 30 lakhs or 75% of the total cost, whichever is lower. For churches between 10 and 25 years age, government funding will be 20 lakhs or 50% of the total cost, whichever is lower and for churches, which are less than 10 years old, assistance will be 10 lakhs.
Funding during 2013-14
During 2013-14, the state government gave 12.30 crores for 134 existing churches spread across 26 districts for the purpose of repair and renovation. Similarly, it gave 6.72 crores for the construction of 30 Samudaya Bhavana spread across 11 districts. (See Image 2 & 3 below)
Image 2: Copy of the document showing government funding for repair and renovation of existing churches for the year 2013-14. (Document furnished in response to RTI query)
From the funds allotted for the purpose of repair and renovation of the existing churches, most of the Churches received 10 lakhs rupees each, which was also the largest amount received by a church for repair. Among the 26 districts that received the money, three districts received more than one crore rupees each: Bengaluru Urban (100 lakhs), Bidar (130 lakhs), and Dakshina Kannada (177.5 lakhs). Chamarajanagara and Yadagiri received 99.5 lakhs and 96.1 lakhs respectively. Districts like Kolar, Shimoga, Chikkamagalur, and Belagavi received 78 lakhs, 52 lakhs, 58.5 lakhs, and 36 lakhs, respectively. Few like Mysuru, Bengaluru rural, Bagalakote, and Chitradurga received 10 lakhs rupees each.
Image 3: Copy of the document showing government funding for construction of Samudaya Bhavana for the Christian community for the year 2013-14. (Document furnished in response to RTI query)
Out of the 30 organizations that received the funds for the purpose of construction of Samudaya Bhavana for the Christian community, three organizations, namely, NM Memorial Education Society, St. John Minority Education Society, and J John Memorial Minority Education Society & Rural Upliftment Development Samiti, received 50 lakhs each. Sixteen organizations received 25 lakhs each. Among all the 11 districts, Bidar district alone received 4.5 crores, i.e. around 67% of the total amount allotted for the construction of new community halls.
Thus, the Karnataka state government spent a total of 19.02 crores on renovation of existing churches and construction of new Christian community halls during the year 2013-14.
Funding during 2014-15
During 2014-15, the state government gave 16.56 crores for 125 existing churches spread across 30 districts for the purpose of repair and renovation. Similarly, it gave 14.98 crores for the construction of 55 Samudaya Bhavana spread across 14 districts. (See Image 4 & 5 below)
Image 4: Copy of the document showing government funding for repair and renovation of existing churches for the year 2014-15. (Document furnished in response to RTI query)
From the funds allotted for the purpose of repair and renovation of the existing churches, most of the Churches received 10 lakhs rupees each. The largest amount received by a single church at a single location for renovation was 50 lakhs, which was received by two churches: Our lady of Holy Rosary Cathedral Church of Haige Bazar, Mangalore and Kapuchin Prayers Minor Society, in Jail road, Mangalore. Few other churches that received large amounts were: Immaculate Connection Church in Mangalore (44.05 lakhs), Saint Paul’s Church in Harihara (36.9 lakhs), Anta Albone Church in Puttur (29.5 lakhs), Saint Paul’s Church in Hosapete (30 lakhs), and Sechit Paul Methodist Church in Bidar (25 lakhs). But, it was the Seventh Adventist Church, which has 28 churches spread across the Bidar district, which received the largest funding from the Government: 280 Lakhs (10 Lakhs for each of its 28 churches).
Among the 30 districts that received the money for renovation, Dakshina Kannada district received the highest: 4.6 crores, followed by Bidar district, which received 3.95 crores. In the 4.6 crores received by the Dakshina Kannada district, the RTI document does not furnish any details, including the name and location of the church on two counts: One church, which was given 100 lakhs funding and another church, which was given 25 lakhs funding. Thus, it cannot be known where, how, and by whom these 125 lakhs have been spent. Other districts like Bengaluru (Urban), Udupi, and Shimoga received 94.25 lakhs, 74.25 lakhs, and 59.75 lakhs, respectively. Chamarajanagar and Chikkamagalur, both received 70 lakhs each.
Image 5: Copy of the document showing government funding for construction of Samudaya Bhavana for the Christian community for the year 2014-15. (Document furnished in response to RTI query)
Now, coming to the government funding given for the construction of Samudaya Bhavanas for the Christian community, out of the 55 organizations that received the funds, six organizations, namely, Santoma Paris Trust, Bengaluru, Saint Mary Church Trust, Bengaluru, Saint Sebastian Charitable Society, Bengaluru, J John Memorial Minority Education society & Rural Upliftment Development Samiti, Bidar, St. Mary’s Church, Bagalkote, and Mission Compound, UBMC Trust Association, Udupi, have received 50 lakhs rupees each. Other high amount receiving organizations include: Karnataka Maranatha Pentecost, Halasuru (49.36 lakhs), The Early Apo Saulic Mission India Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Halasuru (47.14 lakhs), Ammana Church, Amana Ministries, Bengaluru (41.65 lakhs), Eminarva Mizbah Ministries, Bengaluru (38.54 lakhs) and Kanghartara Ministry Trust, Gulbarga (30 lakhs). Also, Twenty-Nine organizations received 25 lakhs each. Among the 14 districts that received the government funding for constructing Samudaya Bhavana, highest funding was given to Bengaluru (Urban): 4.45 crores, followed by Bidar: 4.16 crores and Gulbarga: 1.77 crores.
Thus, the Karnataka government spent a total of 31.55 crores rupees on renovation of existing churches and construction of new Christian community halls, during the year 2014-15. This amount was 65.9% more than what was spent during the year 2013-14. Bengaluru (U), Bidar, and Dakshina Kannada remained the highest funded districts during 2014-15 as well.
Funding during 2015-16
The government RTI response for the year 2015-16 provided only information regarding the funding of the repair and renovation of the existing Churches. According to the response, the government spent 14.84 crore rupees on 76 existing churches spread across 20 districts during 2015-16. (See Image 6 below)
Image 6: Copy of the document showing government funding for repair and renovation of existing churches for the year 2015-16. (Document furnished in response to RTI query)
Six churches, namely, Christ the King Church, Bellary, St. Anthony Church, Chikkamagalur, Sechit Fanchis Xavier Church, Udupi, San Salvodora Church, Honnavara, Salvodor Church, Honnavara, and St. Franchis Xavier Church, Bhatkala, received 50 lakhs rupees each. St. Athony Church and St. Joseph Church in Dakshina Kannada district, both received 45 lakhs each. Among the 20 districts, Uttara Kannada received the highest: 3.01 crores, followed by Dakshina Kannada (2.57 crores), Raichur (1.3 crores), Chikkamagalur (1.1 crores), Udupi (1 crore), and Coorg (90.25 lakhs). Bengaluru (U) received 51.15 lakhs rupees.
Thus, according to the government response to the RTI queries, it spent only 14.84 crores on church infrastructure. But, as mentioned before, a perusal of the website of Directorate of Minorities, will lead one to the document regarding the government spending on the construction of Samudaya Bhavana for the year 2015-16. (The document can be accessed here)
According to this document, the government spent 13.15 crore rupees on the construction of Samudaya Bhavana during 2015-16. The amount was given to 42 organizations spread across 12 districts. Out of the total 42 organizations that received the money, 12 organizations received 50 lakhs, 5 organizations received between 25 and 50 lakhs, 18 organizations received 25 lakhs, and the rest between 10 and 25 lakhs. The Swargarohana Maate Devalaya-UBMC Trust Association alone received a total amount of 75 lakhs– 50 lakhs for its center at Badagabettu, Udupi, and 25 lakhs for its center at Pandavapura, Mandya. Among the 12 districts, Bengaluru (Urban) received the highest money: 7.58 crores, which forms around 57.6% of the total money spent on construction of Samudaya Bhavana. Bengaluru (U) is followed by Bidar (1.75 crores), Dakshina Kannada (1.24 crores), Chikkaballapura (1 crore), Kalaburgi (77.91 lakhs), and Chikkamagalur (70.55 lakhs) district.
Combining the spending on renovation of existing churches and on the construction of new Samudaya Bhavana, we get a total government spending for the year 2015-16 as 28 crore rupees. Though, this amount is slightly less than the total amount spent during 2014-15, it is still 47% increase compared to 2013-14 spending. Dakshina Kannada, Bidar, and Bengaluru (U) remained among the highest funding receiving districts. Uttara kannada, Raichur, and Chikkamagalur districts also received large amount.
Mismatch in Data for the year 2015-16
In the previous section, we saw that the government in its response to RTI query about the spending on renovation of existing churches during 2015-16, has said that it had spent 14.84 crore rupees for the said purpose. But, the documents published on the website of Directorate of Minorities, reveals that the spending on the renovation of existing churches during 2015-16 was actually 23.276 crores (The document can be accessed here).
Hence, there is a mismatch between the document furnished in response to RTI query and the document uploaded by the government on its website. It is not clear why there is a mismatch on two government documents on the same issue. The mismatch being due to clerical error is also highly unlikely, because the difference in amount is huge: 8.436 crores. It is possible that the document provided in response to RTI response is the latest one, but even then it does not explain why the government has not updated its website till now. Further, if one were to compare both the documents, one would notice, how funding given to districts like Bidar and Bengaluru (Rural) have been completely removed; Or how in eight out of 22 districts, half of the organizations in the order they appear in the document on Directorate of Minorities website is missing from the document furnished during RTI response. (See the Image 7 below).
Image 7: Document regarding government funding for repair and renovation of existing churches for the year 2015-16 extracted from the website of Directorate of Minorities. The organizations marked yellow are those missing from the document given in RTI response, but present in the Directorate of Minorities website.
It also appears unlikely that the funds given to these organizations were later withdrawn and hence are not visible in the RTI response document. This is unlikely, especially considering how the missing organizations appear in serial order under the various districts in the original document published at the government website. Further, IndiaFacts could not find any document regarding government declaration of any withdrawal of funds given to any Churches.
These points, raises serious questions regarding the authenticity of the RTI response by the government? Should one consider 14.84 crores furnished in RTI response as the actual spending on renovation of existing churches? Or should one consider 23.276 crores as the actual spending? Was there a foul play? Was the reduction of the amount in the RTI response deliberate? The state government needs to come up with a satisfactory response to these questions.
Steep increase in government funding within three years
We already saw above, how the yearly funding jumped from 19.02 crores in 2013-14 to 31.55 crores in 2014-15 and slightly dropped to 28 crores in 2015-16 and thus increasing 47% between 2013-14 and 2015-16. But, if we were to take 23.276 crores as the actual spending on renovation of existing churches during 2015-16, then the total spending for the year will become 36.426 crores. In other words, in 2015-16, there was an increase of 30% in spending compared to 2014-15 and an increase of 91% in spending compared to 2013-14.
Now, let’s consider spending on renovation of existing churches alone. It increased from 12.3 crores in 2013-14 to 16.56 crores in 2014-15 to 14.84 crores (as per RTI response) or 23.276 crores as per Directorate of Ministry’s website document). Therefore, there was an increase of 20.65% or 89% in the spending between 2013-14 and 2015-16 depending upon whether we consider RTI response or the Minorities department website document for 2015-16. In Uttara Kannada district, the spending increased from 32.5 lakhs and 33 lakhs in 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively to a whopping amount 3.01 crores during 2015-16. Similarly, in Raichur district, the spending increased from 20.5 lakhs in 2013-14 to 1.3 crores (or 2.3 crores if document in government website for 2015-16 is taken into account). In Dakshina Kannada district, the spending increased from 1.77 crores during 2013-14 to 4.6 crores during 2014-15. It decreased to 2.57 crores (as per RTI response) or increased to 4.93 crores (as per document on government website). Similarly, spending in Bengaluru (U) increased from 1 crore to 1.27 crore (as per document on government website) or decreased to 51.15 lakhs (as per RTI response).
Now, coming to the spending on the construction of Samudaya Bhavana alone, the spending increased from 6.72 crores in 2013-14 to 14.98 crores in 2014-15 and then slightly decreased to 13.15 crores in 2015-16. In all, there was an increase of 95% in the spending within 3 years. In Bengaluru (U), the spending increased from 25 lakhs in 2013-14 to 4.45 crores next year to 7.58 crores in 2015-16. Similarly, spending in Dakshina Kannada district increased from 45 lakhs in 2013-14 to 1.24 crores in 2015-16. But, the spending reduced in Bidar district from 4.5 crores in 2013-14 to 1.75 crores in 2015-16.
Though, there has been a district-wise fluctuation in spending, the total spending on church renovation and construction of Christian community halls has almost doubled (91% increase) between 2013-14 and 2015-16. Further, the maximum amount given to an individual church for its renovation work was increased from 10 lakhs in 2013-14 to a maximum of 50 lakhs in 2014-15 and 2015-16. This increase should be seen in the context of the state government modifying the original GO- asamkaE.70MDS2011, which stipulated 10 lakhs as the maximum amount to be given to any church for renovations, by introducing a new GO-MWD.351MDS2014 during 2014-15, which determined the government assistance based on the age of the church that requires renovation and fixed a maximum amount of 50 lakhs.
Organizations that received funding under multiple heads
Apart from the steep increase in the funding of Churches by the state government, there are many instances, when the same Church and Christian organization has received funding on more than one occasion.
Take the Early Apostolic Mission India Church in Bengaluru, for example. They have received government funding every year since 2013-14. In 2013-14, they were given 10 lakhs for renovation. They have been given 47.14 lakhs for the construction of Samudaya Bhavana in 2014-15 as well as in 2015-16. Similarly, Bethel Full Gospel Church, in Kadur, Chikkamagalur district, received funding for its renovation, both in 2013-14 (6 lakhs) and 2014-15 (10 lakhs). St. Franchis of Azizi Church in Kallattipura, Tarikere Taluk in Chikkamagalur district, also received government funding for the construction of Samudaya Bhavana, both in 2013-14 (11.5 lakhs) and 2014-15 (11.5 lakhs). Another example is Paris Society in KR Nagara, Mysore District. They received 20.6 lakhs in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 for the construction of Samudaya Bhavana.
Here is a table analyzing the funding pattern of the three districts: Bengaluru (U), Bidar, and Dakshina Kannada, which are among the highest receivers of government funding for renovation of churches and construction of Samudaya Bhavanas. The table shows the funding of only those organizations, which have received government assistance on multiple occasions. (See Image 8 below)
Such, funding of the same organizations on subsequent years and for the same purposes in some instances, raises serious questions regarding the criteria being used by the government to disburse funds and the mechanism that is being employed for conducting proper inspection and verification.
The GO- MWD.318MDS2011 clearly mentions about inspection of the financial documents of the churches as well as the progress of the work for which funding has been given. It stipulates the churches to finish renovation works within six months and the second installment of the funding is to be released only after the inspection of progress. It further stipulates that in case of any non-compliance with the GO, the churches are bound to return the entire amount to the government.
Yet, in the last three years, there has not been even a single issue related to any malpractice or non-compliance. No reports or documents could be found regarding any inspection or verification. Also, the documents furnished by the state government do not give any details regarding the kind of repair and renovations carried out by the churches, whether they were inspected on the ground, exact address of the proposed Samudaya Bhavanas etc. Another issue of concern is the fact that the districts like Bidar and Dakshina Kannada, which have received maximum government funding, have also reported numerous incidents of Christian conversion activities over the past few years. Add to this, the fact that the entire legislative is discriminatory in nature and Hindu temples receive a meagre 36,000 rupees per temple  for their upkeep, though lakhs of rupees are generated by them every year.
These issues, combined together with the fact that the state government has steeply increased funding of churches over the last three years and is funding many churches repeatedly, raise many critical questions that need satisfactory responses from the state government.
- Rohith Chakrathirtha in his article published on May 28, 2016 in Vishwavani newspaper, a Kannada Daily, writes: “There are 34543 temples under the Muzrai department of Karnataka. 160 Temples out of these bring an annual revenue of above 25 Lakhs. The revenue of Kukke Subramanya temple is itself 77 crores annually. 154 temples generate a revenue of between 5 to 25 Lakhs, the rest (34229) of the temples generate a revenue of less than 5 Lakh rupees annually. The Majority of this revenue goes to the Government treasury while a meagre 36000 Rupees is given as grant for the repair and renovation of each temple.”
(With inputs from Shashi Kiran)