Government control/ regulation of Hindu Temples has always been a contentious issue in India since colonial times. The British perceived these temples as important power centres and sought to establish a firm hold over them. Accordingly, they enacted laws to shift the control of temples from devotees to the state. These laws continue to exist even in a secular India today. Currently, State governments have their own laws to regulate Hindu Temples/ Hindu religious institutions.
These laws enable the government to exercise significant control over the affairs of Temples- right from the appointment of temple priests (archakas), temple servants, prescribing their qualifications, creation of a Common Pool Fund for appropriating excess earnings of temples, creation of a governing body (Dharmika Parishad) for regulating temples, appointment of managing committee members, sale of temple land, etc.
Secularism means total separation of religion from the state. That means the State should ideally not meddle in the affairs of temples and vice versa. Whether these laws are justified or not is a separate debate, which is outside the scope of this article. The objective of this article is to present the facts in relation to funds collected from Hindu temples in Karnataka by the Muzrai Department (towards Common Pool) and their utilization.
In Karnataka, we have the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 and subsequent amendments (hereinafter referred to as “the HRCE Act”). As per this HRCE Act, many notified temples fall under the regulation/ control of the Endowment (Muzrai) Department of the Karnataka government. The complete list of all notified temples can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
The Act stipulates that all notified temples be sub-divided into 3 categories:
|Category||Eligibility Condition||No. of Temples||Appropriation towards Common Pool|
|Grade A||Annual Income > ₹25 Lakh||164||10% of Income|
|Grade B||Annual Income ₹5 Lakhto ₹25 Lakh||283||5% of Income|
|Grade C||Annual Income < ₹5 Lakh||34,000+||Nil|
As mentioned in the table above, the HRCE Act enables the Government to appropriate a portion of the earnings of these temples to a Common Pool Fund, which is to be used for the upkeep and maintenance of other Hindu temples, which may not be able to generate enough income to meet its expenditure.
Grade A temples have to contribute 10% of their gross annual income and Grade B temples have to contribute 5% of their gross annual income towards the same. Apart from the upkeep of other Hindu Temples, the Common Pool Funds can also be used for other purposes, as prescribed by the Act. In this context, a controversy arises due to the fact that these ‘other purposes’ as provided by the Act have been loosely/ ambiguously drafted such that they may permit these funds to be utilized for purposes other than the development/ maintenance of Hindu Temples/ other Hindu causes. This in turn has led to speculation in the grapevine and social media that these funds are being utilized for the development of other religious minorities. To allay these concerns, none other than the Muzrai Minister Rudrappa Lamani had to clarify in June 2017 that the State would never divert temple’s revenue for minority welfare activities and certainly not for mosques and churches.
In this connection, we filed an RTI to determine the collection and usage of funds of the Common Pool. We asked the Karnataka State Government 6 queries, the answers to which, as provided by them have been furnished below:
Query 1: What are the total receipts/ amounts collected from Hindu Temples/ Hindu religious institutions towards the Common Pool Fund by the Muzrai Department of Karnataka State government from FY 2012-13 to FY 2017-18
Reply: The details of the amounts collected towards the Common Pool Funds are as below:
|Sl. No||Financial year||Amounts Collected (in cr)|
Query 2: Details of amounts spent/ utilized (out of 1 above) on the welfare of the Hindu Temples/ Hindu religious institutions or for funding temple activities for the FY 2012-13 to FY 2017-18
Reply: The details of the amounts spent from the common pool funds are as below:
|Sl. No||Financial year||Amounts Spent (in cr)|
Query 3: As per your records please inform me whether there is any excess money left unspent after meeting the above expenses, and if so, details of where such money have been invested/ parked for each of the years from FY 2012-13 to FY 2017-18
Reply: The total amount left unspent ₹3.38 Cr (out of the cumulative aggregate previous periods collections) have been kept in specified accounts/ deposits.
Query 4: As per your records please inform me whether the money collected (in point 1) have been spent for other general welfare projects? (i.e., for purposes other than temple activities – such as maintenance and development of Temples). If so, details thereof for the FY 2012-13 to FY 2017-18
Reply: The details of other expenditures (for purposes other than mentioned above) are as follows:
|Sl. No||Financial year||Amounts Spent (in cr)|
These expenditures for ‘other purposes’ include Priests (archaka’s) conferences, Agama Shastra Training, Expenditures in connection with the State Dharmika Parishad, Legal expenses of the State Dharmika Parishad (i.e., lawyer’s fees for defending suits in High Court and Supreme Court, travelling expenses of officials for personal appearance), publication of journals, Stamp duty expenses in relation to 5 acre leased premises in Nilakkal, Kerala, and expenses in relation to providing basic amenities for devotees of Karnataka who go on pilgrimage to Sabarimala Temple in Kerala have been approved by the State Dharmika Parishad headed by the Muzrai Minister.
Query 5: Kindly provide me the names of the top 10 Hindu Temples from whom maximum amount of revenue has been collected by Muzrai department for FY 2016-17. Also provide details of revenue collected from these 10 temples by Muzrai department for the FY 2012-13 to FY 2017-18
Reply: The details of the top 10 temples from which the maximum amounts have been collected towards the Common Pool Fund are given below:
Amounts in Crores (₹)
|S.N||Name and Address
of the Temple
|1||Sri Kukke Subramanya Temple, Subramanya, Sulya Taluk||2.86||2.22||1.72||3.13||3.15||–||13.08|
|2||Sri Mookambika Temple, Kollur, Kundapur Taluk||0.41||0.74||0.93||–||2.42||–||4.51|
|3||Sri Chamundeshwari Temple and Palace Muzrai Temples, Mysore||0.40||0.72||0.67||0.67||–||–||2.46|
|4||Sri Srikanteshwara Swamy Temple, Nanjangud||0.38||0.47||0.44||0.59||–||–||1.88|
|5||Sri Huligemme Temple, Hulige, Koppala||0.34||0.22||0.43||0.09||0.15||–||1.23|
|6||Sri Renukalayamma Temple, Yelammana Gudda, Savadatti Taluk||0.44||0.37||0.16||–||0.4||–||1.37|
|7||Sri Durgaparameshwari Temple, Kateel, Mangalore Taluk||–||0.14||0.48||0.37||–||–||0.99|
|8||Sri Ghati Subramanya Temple, Ghati Doddaballapura Taluk||0.05||0.10||0.08||0.24||0.15||–||0.62|
|9||Sri Durgaparameshwari Temple, Mandarti Udupi Taluk||0.05||0.06||0.09||0.05||0.08||–||0.33|
|10||Sri Utsavamba Temple, Ucchangidurga, Harapanahalli Taluk||0.02||0.03||0.05||0.04||0.03||0.05||0.22|
Query 6: As per your records please inform me whether the money collected by Muzrai Department from Hindu Temples has been used to fund any religious/ charitable activities of minority communities? (such as Muslims, Christians, etc). If so, the details thereof for the FY 2012-13 to FY 2017-18
Reply: The details of the amounts granted from the Common pool fund for the religious institutions of other minority religions are as follows:
|FY||Amounts given to Jain Religious Institutions
|Amounts given to Buddhist Religious Institutions|
These amounts were granted with the approval of the State Dharmika Parishad headed by the Hon’ble Minister of Muzrai. Apart from the above, no amounts have ever been approved (previously or subsequently) for such purposes from the Common Pool Fund.
The above is the data on the collection/ utilization of funds of the Common Pool. In this context, it may be relevant to examine what the High Court/ Supreme Court has held in the past about the HRCE Act and about the utilization from the Common Pool Fund in general:
Some General observations of the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court on the overall HRCE Act and on the utilization of funds:
- On the Constitutional validity on the Act:
Aggrieved by many of the provisions of the Act, many petitioners filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court and challenged the Constitutional validity of the Act on various grounds.
One of the grounds was that the HRCE Act was violating Article 14 (Right to Equality and prevention of discrimination) of the Constitution of India. The Act is inapplicable to Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Matts. They contended that such exclusion was without justification and amounts to hostile discrimination.
The definition of “Hindu” is discriminatory under the HRCE Act.
Section 2(16) of the HRCE Act – ‘Hindu’ does not include a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh
They contended that the Constitution of India and various laws such as the Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Marriages Act, Hindu Adoption and maintenance Act and Income Tax Act envisage Hindus to be inclusive of Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. The Income Tax law allows a Buddhist, Jain and Sikh to form a HUF (Hindu Undivided Family) to claim additional tax benefits.
In this connection, the HC observed in Para 43 of Sri Sahasra Lingeshwara Temple Vs The State of Karnataka (2006),as follows:
“State however placed arguments that there are certain differences in practice and rituals amongst Jains, Buddhist and Sikhs visa-vis Hindus and hence exclusion of Jains, Buddhist and Sikhs is permissible in law. This argument or the state is required to be noticed for rejection. For that matter, even among Hindus, there are several castes and sub-castes and those castes and sub-castes follow different practice and different rituals depending on the locality or the place. In fact, at this stage, we must also notice that there is no request also from Jains, Sikhs etc., to exclude them on the ground of differences, if at all as sought to be argued before us. State cannot justify this exclusion in this manner without any foundation, what so ever. He cannot but observe that Hindu religion is already divided by way of castes and sub-castes. Now the State also wants to divide Hindus by excluding Jains, Sikhs in terms of a Statute. At this stage, it if necessary to notice what the Supreme Court had said in the Judgment in 2005 SC 3172. The supreme court has ruled that “Differential treatments to linguistic minorities based on language within the state is understandable but if the same concept for minorities on the basis of religion is encouraged, the whole country, which is already under class and social conflicts due to various divisive forces, will further face division on the basis of religious diversities.” Therefore, we have no hesitation in holding that on this ground also, the Act suffers from violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Further, the petitioners also argued that various sections of the HRCE Act are in violation of Article 25 (Freedom of religion) and Article 26 (Right of every religious group to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage its affairs, properties as per the law). This is because an Advisory Committee headed by a Minister would result in political interference. The petitioners also had various objections to the constitution of the managing committee.
Further, they pleaded that the establishment of a Common Pool Fund for compulsory contribution is a ‘tax without authority of law’, which is specifically prohibited by the Constitution of India.
In short, the implementation of the provisions of this Act would result in the nationalisation of institutions belonging to Hindus.
In Sri Sahasra Lingeshwara Temple Vs The State of Karnataka (2006), the Karnataka High Court examined many of these arguments and stuck down many sections of the Act as violative of Articles 14 and 26 of the Constitution. The Court also held that as it is not possible to severe these unconstitutional sections from the Act, and thus the entire Act was struck down as unconstitutional. However, the Hon’ble HC did not accept all the contentions of the petitioners and the matter is currently pending in the Supreme Court for adjudication.
However, pending adjudication in the SC, the HRCE Act was made operational by the SC (except sec. 25) until the issue is settled (keeping the HC judgement in abeyance). But, the SC refused to lift the stay on the order of HC pertaining to section 25 (Constitution of the Managing Committee governing Temples). Meanwhile, sec. 25 was omitted from the HRCE Act by the Karnataka Legislature and reintroduced by the Amendment Act of 2012. This amendment was also challenged in the Karnataka HC. The HC again struck down the entire amendment Act of 2012 as unconstitutional.
Thus, pending the adjudication of the issue by the Apex Court, the original HRCE Act 1997, would be operational excluding section 25. However, all the provisions of the amended Act 2012 would be in-operational on account of a jurisdictional High Court Ruling.
- On the manner of collection of funds from the Common Pool:
The Hon’ble Karnataka HC held that collecting 10% and 5% of the ‘gross annual income’ towards the common pool fund appears to be an arbitrary one because the temple has to meet its own expenditure out of its gross income. Thus the HC held that such collections has to be out of the surplus left (if any) after deducting all expenditure and not on ‘gross income’ in terms of the Act.
- On the permitted purposes of utilization of funds from the Common Pool:
In the beginning of the article, I had mentioned that the wordings used in section 19 of the HRCE Act (pertaining to utilization of funds from the Common Pool) are ambiguous/ loosely drafted, which may permit utilization of funds for other than Hindu causes.
In this connection, The Hon’ble HC observed in Sri Sahasra Lingeshwara Temple case as follows:
“Laudable objects are provided in the matter of administration of common pool fund. But a careful reading of certain purposes would show that the said purpose seems to be arbitrary in character. It cannot be forgotten that money is taken out of the Hindu temple. Money is poured by Hindus. It may be a laudable object to provide to a poor Institution of other religions. But It cannot be only from the funds Hindu temple alone. The State has to provide such assistance as is necessary to such institutions but there can be no compulsion only from Hindu temple to provide assistance to such institutions, it can be voluntary by Hindu temples, but it cannot be compulsory, prima facia in terms of the Act. In Section 19(h) rightly, the Government has chosen to say that the administration can be for establishment and maintenance of Hindu children. But those words are missing in Sections (1) and (j). This Court is not for a moment suggesting that poor institutions of other religions are not to be helped but who is to help is the question and how to help those Institutions. After all, devotees of Hindu temple provide kanika or money to that Hindu temple for temple purposes and it cannot be spent for other non-Hindu causes without any relevance to the Hindus. Though Hindu religion does not prohibit such contribution prima facie, but still it is desirable that such amount is spent only for Hindu institutions. As otherwise, there is every likelihood of the Hindu institutions asking for assistance/maintenance from other religious institutions which ultimately may result in unwanted religious quarrels”
Given that the matter is pending in the SC, it remains to be seen as to whether the HRCE Act will be able to pass the test of constitutional validity. It also remains to be seen as to whether the State can evolve an alternate model to balance the requirement of maintaining temple discipline/ administration with the need to provide freedom of religion and practice to the devotees in terms of the Constitution of India.
Featured Image: Kukke Sri Subramanya Temple, Sulia Taluk, DK District, Karnataka