Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced on Saturday that the state government will not control any activities of temples.
Addressing an event in Bhopal on Parshuram Jayanti, the chief minister said, “We have decided that the government will not have any control over the activities of the temples and the auction of temple land will be done by priests and not by collectors.”
The BJP’s campaign to “free Hindu temples” from the control of government seems to have gained momentum with CM Chouhan’s announcement.
Freeing Hindu temples from government control is a long pending demand of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The RSS has been pushing the narrative that Hindu temples are under government control, and that funds collected through these temples were being spent on maintenance of churches and mosques.
Karnataka’s ‘free temples’ plan shelved
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced in December 2021 that a law would be introduced soon to free temples from government control.
“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,” Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai said.
A significant number of temples in the state are regulated by the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Department, or the Muzrai department.
But 15 months later, there has been no progress in this direction and the ‘free temples’ plan has been shelved, as in practice it turned out to be complicated to implement.
Temple funds for public good: Supreme Court
While questioning the justification of a public interest litigation (PIL) that pressed for Hindus to have the same right as Christians and Muslims to manage religious places like temples without government interference, the Supreme Court had observed in September 2022 that since all temple earnings come from society, they may very well be returned to the people by way of establishing colleges and universities.
A bench of Chief Justice of India UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat heard the case.
In his petition, advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay raised the issue of Hindus being “singled out”, with the state governments overseeing temples and their earnings, the top court questioned the need to revisit the 1863 Religious Endowments Act, noting that the statute has facilitated temples to cater to “larger needs of the society.”
“What is the need for this? This has been functioning for such a long time…If it is a receipt of the temple, it is by the people. So, it has to go back to the people. Take the example of Tirupati, you have colleges there…Universities are set up in Delhi by state enterprises. What’s wrong with that?” the bench observed during the hearing.
“This Act has been working since 1863. We have a history of 150 years where these denominations catered to the larger needs of society and not for their purpose only. Some temples have even given their lands. Now, you are asking us to roll the clock back,” the bench further remarked.