Article 25 of the Constitution of India confers on all persons the freedom to profess, practise and propagate religion as a fundamental right. The State can, however, “regulate” and “restrict” economic, financial, political, or other ‘secular’ activity associated with religious practice.
Yet, the rights of Hindus have been severely trampled upon because activities of temples are not just regulated and restricted, but also taken over, controlled and administered by State Governments. This is a violation of the fundamental rights of Hindus in our constitutional framework. It is also in contravention of the SECULAR principles of separation of religion from government.
ONGOING LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
In the Chidambaram Temple case, the Supreme Court has assailed governmental control of temples. It observed that the government should takeover and run Hindu temples only as a last resort. The Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka too has held that the Hindu Religious Endowments Act in the State to be unconstitutional. Despite the numerous judgments, over 4 lakh temples nationwide, and about 35,000 temples in Karnataka, are under direct government control.
Several Hindu pontiffs and religious leaders─ belonging to Arsha Vidya Peetha, Senyas Ashram, Arsha Vidya Mandir, Ahobilam Mutt and etc.─ have challenged in the Hon’ble Supreme Court the constitutionality of various State enactments to take over and govern Hindu temples ad infinitum. This Petition is scheduled for hearing in the Apex Court on 13th July, 2016.
AUTONOMOUS GOVERNANCE CHALLENGE
The constitutionality of government interference in Hindu temples is a matter the Courts will surely adjudicate on in due course. However, an equally daunting thought is the fate of Hindu temples, if and when the State relinquishes control over them.
According to Dr. Vaman Acharya, many crucial questions beg to be asked. For instance, who will control and manage temples? How can temples be run autonomously, transparently and with accountability? What are the regulatory mechanisms that should be in place to ensure effective governance? Which administrative best practices should temples adhere to?
A workshop titled “Temple Governance: An Indic Model for the New Millennium” was organised in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, to discuss and describe an alternate framework for temple administration. “During this seminar,” Dr. Udupi Srinivas said, “we looked into all facets of temple autonomy. About 50 intellectuals brainstormed to: (a) explore the challenges of autonomous administration; and, (b) evolve an effective model for governance of temples.”
ALTERNATE MODEL OF TEMPLE GOVERNANCE
A Comprehensive Indic Model based on a study of various well-managed Hindu temples and mutts─ such as Dharmasthaļa, Śringeri, Udupi, etc.─ was tabled for discussions during the workshop. Best practices adopted at these institutions were documented to evolve the model.
“A broad consensus was also reached on many aspects of Hindu Temple Management,” Advocate Kiran Bettadapur explained.
The main conclusions that emerged at the conference were:
- Government should regulate, but NOT administer temples
- Temples must be run with autonomy, transparency and accountability
- Best practices and good governance should be the mantras for temple administrators
- Temples must become hubs of socio-cultural and economic activity in society
- They should drive social change, community service and economic development.
- Temples must strive to inculcate values and ethics in society.