Recent incidents that have come to light in Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) and the Endowment Department where persons professing a different faith holding responsible positions in Hindu organisations point to a deeper malady affecting the manner in which Hindu temples are administered and run.
Temples in India are the centres of spirituality, culture and social relationships from times immemorial. Some of these temples like Tirupati and Varanasi are so ancient and sacred to the Hindus that their very existence and growth is interconnected with the growth of Hindu religion. They flourished under the patronage of kings, rulers and local society and are run on the gifts and donations given by the rulers, kings as well as the public.
A number of inscriptions of the kings make a reference to the donations they have given to the temples during their regime. These temples which were run on dharmic lines having an independent local management came under the control of government during the British Rule. The British were also initially reluctant to get involved in these activities but by the turn of 20th Century they thought it fit to regulate the activities in the temples.
Even this is not a pan-India initiative but mostly restricted to South India. This Endowments Act enacted by the British was subsequently replaced with a series of other amendments and Acts by the respective State governments. The Andhra Pradesh state government brought in an Act to replace the Endowments Act enacted by the British in the year 1966 and the same was replaced with another Act in 1987.
In both these Acts of 1966 and 1987 as well as service rules made from time to time, one point was very clearly mentioned that those holding the posts in the Hindu religious institutions should profess faith in the Hindu religion and practise the Hindu religion. Thus, any recruitment to these posts with persons practising and professing a different faith runs contrary to the established rules.
Some try to make an artificial distinction between secular staff and religious staff within Hindu religious institutions and feel that secular staff can be recruited from people professing other religions as well. This argument does not hold water for two reasons. The most important reason is that the staff working in all the temples including the TTD draw their salaries and other perks from the donations made by the devotees and there is no budgetary support whatsoever to the temple staff right up to the Commissioner of Endowments and the Executive Officer, TTD.
At one stage there was a clamour for treasury payments by the Endowments staff and the same was organised by depositing in the Government Account corresponding amount from the Endowments Administrative Fund. What was deposited with the government was more than what was paid as salaries to the employees in the Endowment Department by the government. Thus, the government is holding on to the funds of the religious institutions which should otherwise be legitimately used for their development.
When the total establishment charges of all employees are borne out of the donations and Kanukas given by the devotees, to come up with an artificial distinction of secular and religious staff and to say that secular staff can be recruited from any other religion is neither morally correct nor legally right. Further, even the secular staff perform a number of religious functions and on important occasions receive ceremonial honours.
If a person who does not profess faith were to hold such a crucial position, it would be embarrassing both for the officer concerned as well as for the religious staff to perform these activities. Hence, it is not only desirable but also very essential that all the staff in these Institutions are recruited from the people professing and practising the Hindu religion.
When I was the Executive Officer/TTD when recruitment took place, I made the recruitment provisional subject to an affidavit being submitted by each individual that he professes and practises Hindu religion and sent the same for a local enquiry to be confirmed at the village or ward level through a Panchanama and regularisation was made subject to this enquiry. Recruitment to these institutions cannot be equated with any other government recruitment and cannot be done by an agency like the Public Service Commission.
In fact, the government should find an alternative method of recruiting staff for religious institutions and set up a body exclusively for this purpose, who should be given the responsibility of verifying and finding out the religious background of the person before the recruitment is done.
Already there is a provision in the Act for establishment of a Dharmic Parishad. It is observed more in its breach than in its observance by the AP government since they find it much easier to control and politically manage these institutions with the existing secular staff rather than to have a Dharmic Parishad with people of eminence and strong religious faith, which can become counter to the political authority of the government concerned. It is high time the government gives up this attitude of politically controlling the religious establishments and establishes a Dharmic Parishad consisting of people with strong religious conviction who can guide the functioning of these institutions.
The government should be willing to forego a lot of power it now exercises over these institutions, in arbitrarily dealing with the Endowment Department lands and assets, allotting it as political patronage and allowing a more neutral religious body to look after the issues of the Hindu temples. Till such a change in mindset is there in the political leadership, these serious issues of malfunctioning which are manifested in terms of people of different faiths holding important positions within the Hindu religious institutions cannot be set right.
By: Krishna Rao Iyr
(Writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)