Sometimes the best of intentions of the government can create problems for the institutions which they are supposed to help. Such a thing seems to be happening with reference to the management of temples in Telangana state. After the formation of the state the state government with the best of intentions established the cabinet sub committee to look into running of the temples in the state and suggest necessary amendments to the 1987 Endowments Act which created a lot of problems in the proper functioning of temples more particularly small temples.
Government also considered the long pending request of the temple employees including the dharmic staff for payment of salaries on par with the government employees. The temple staff who made this request and the political leadership who considered the request seem to have forgotten the fundamental difference between the services rendered by the temple staff and by the staff of other government institutions.
Temple system in India evolved over a period of time with certain unique features of being autonomous and independent of the state while at the same time surviving on the patronage of the state. This is achieved in terms of endowments made by different dynasties in the name of the deity as well as those who are rendering services in the temples known as the dharmic staff. The first set of endowments are known as ‘Temple inams’, whereas, the lands endowed in favour of the staff for doing the temple work are known as ‘Service inams’.
The 1987 Endowments Act abolished all these ‘Service inams’ hitting at the livelihood of all those families’ dependent on upkeep and running of the temples. The Act contemplated payment of salaries to these employees in place of enjoyment of land for the services rendered to the temple. Government over a period of time found it very difficult to compensate the dharmic staff with salaries. This peculiar situation of abolishing existing stream of income and not being able to provide an alternative source of income has led to a number of families making a living on temple related activities leaving their work.
In fact, a classic case was that of ‘torch bearers’ at the time of village deity procession discontinuing their services consequent on abolition of ‘Service inams’ as they were rendering their service enjoying the ‘Service inam. It is that that needs to be rectified by restoring back the service inams’ to the dharmic staff which would facilitate them to render the services instead of paying them salaries on par with the government employees.
The moment the temple dharmic staff are paid on par with the government employees they will start thinking and behaving like government employees and the autonomous and self reliant manner in which the temples are administered would be lost. Issues of retirement post retirement benefits would all become relevant and the unique relationship that priest has with the temple and the deity no longer will exist. In my opinion there should be no retirement age of the dharmic staff and that they should be able to serve the temple as long as they are physically and mentally fit and active. This is what is emphasised by the honourable Supreme Court also when it observed that the small temple should be left to fend for themselves.
There is another relevant issue connected with payment of salaries to the temple dharmic staff on par with government employees and implementing successive PRC recommendations to these employees. The issue is where does the money come from? if it has to come through a budgetary support then constitutional issues are involved of government revenue supporting the temple administration.
Telangana state unlike Andhra Pradesh does not have big temples with huge revenues which can be used for cross subsidising the small temples. Hence, the best course of action would be to restore the ‘Service inams’ of the dharmic staff and look for local support to the local temples to the extent they can and find ways of strengthening the corpus with Endowments Department which can be utilised for additional support as required in deserving cases.
This can be achieved by extensively canvassing for support from philanthropist and others committed to the cause of the religion and creating temple specific corpus to strengthen the small temples financially. This can easily be achieved given the type of commitment the state government of Telangana has demonstrated in addressing issues of the temples and their administration. This is what would facilitate functioning of these institutions as independent autonomous bodies under the patronage of the state government without becoming extended arms of the state government.
This needs to be followed up by appointing people of known commitment to the cause of religion and integrity as trust board members of these institutions wherever required excluding all the small temples from the purview of such trust boards allowing them to fend for themselves as observed by the Supreme Court.
Unlike the state of Andhra Pradesh where there is a total lack of commitment on these issues and an unwillingness to address even the reasonable and genuine concerns, in the case of Telangana the commitment of the state government to the cause of the temples and their proper administration cannot be questioned. It’s for the bureaucracy to rise up to the occasion and come up with a practical suitable system which would facilitate temples being administered as autonomous and independent institutions and at the same time remain the beneficiaries of state patronage.
By: Krishna Rao Iyr
(Writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)