Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has announced plans to give the state’s temples autonomy from government control — a 2018 poll promise of the BJP, and a pet project of the Sangh Parivar.
A law to release temples from the administrative control of the government will be introduced before the budget session, he said Wednesday. The next session of the Karnataka legislature is expected to be held in February.
“My government will do it… Other than regulation, there shall be no restriction on administration or control of Hindu temples. There will be full freedom and autonomy,” Bommai said during his speech at the state executive meeting.
Bommai’s assurance was met with celebratory chants by party members.
“Our seniors have apprised me of their opinion on how places of worship belonging to other religions have separate laws to protect them and give them freedom of administration. But Hindu temples are restricted under government control. They have raised concerns over how the temples’ own funds can’t be spent unless there is bureaucratic consent,” the CM said, right before making the big announcement.
In line with RSS demands
Bommai’s announcement is the latest in a slew of measures he has taken in line with the demands of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, since he took charge as chief minister in July.
Senior RSS leaders have been demanding for years that all Hindu temples, like mosques and churches, be given a free hand in administration, and freed from government control. Freeing temples from the endowments department has featured prominently in the BJP’s election manifestos over the years.
At a press conference in October, Karnataka Muzrai and Wakf Minister Shashikala Jolle had said that 34,563 Hindu temples and institutions in the state are administered by the Hindu religious institutions and charitable endowments (aka Muzrai) department.
The Muzrai department in Karnataka is responsible for the administration, development, renovation and construction of temples. It also pays salaries to temple priests and staff, approves budgets, maintains properties, seeks accountability, and conducts audits etc.
Of the 34,563 temples under the department, 207 temples are of the ‘A’ category, with annual income exceeding Rs 25 lakh, 139 temples are in ‘B’ category, with an income between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, and 34,217 temples are in ‘C’ category, with an annual income of less than Rs 5 lakh.
‘A special team to enforce anti-conversion law’
The state legislature is yet to pass the controversial anti-conversion bill, formally called the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021.
The bill was passed in the state assembly but wasn’t debated in the State Council (upper house).
At the meeting, Bommai also said that once it is cleared by the legislature, he will form a special team to ensure enforcement of the anti-conversion law.
“(Congress leader) Siddaramaiah has said that they will withdraw the anti-conversion bill as soon as they come to power but that will never happen. In fact, I will set up a special task force to enforce the Act. Our agenda is very clear,” he told the gathering.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)