Friday, February 23, 2007

Letter to Kerala Governor - Hindu Jagran Forum, USA protests Kerala Devasom Ordinance

Letter to Kerala Governor-Hindu Jagran forum,USA Protests Kerala Devaswom Ordinance2/19/2007 10:10:51 AM Hindu Jagran Forum (USA)
Letter to Shri R.L. Bhatia, Governor of Kerala

Subject: The Ordinance on reconstituting the Devaswom Boards while ignoring the “community management” is flawed, undemocratic and highly objectionable.

Hon'ble Governor Bhatia,

We would like to bring to your kind attention that the Hindu world is dismayed by the recent ordinance of the Kerala Govt. namely The Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007, which was hastily promulgated on February 4, 2007 for disbanding The Travancore and Cochin Autonomous Devaswom Boards (TCDB). The timing, intent and integrity of the said ordinance is extremely suspicious and questionable particularly in view of the impending session of the State Assembly and the existence of a 3 man commission appointed by the High Court for investigating the allegations of corruption. The Govt. must be well aware that the takeover of temples by the state violates the very basic precepts of separation of state and religion mandated by the Constitution. The structural reforms of the Boards and guidelines on audit, transparency and governance under community oversight should be the democratic way to address concerns on any shortcomings. The Govt. usurpation of control on flimsy excuse of corruption and mismanagement cannot be acceptable to Hindu Society - the real owners of temples.

It must be noted that the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front Govt. appointed the last Devaswom Board, now accused of large scale corruption in appointments and purchases during the past three years (attachment A). Such developments have immeasurably hurt the temples and shrines in the state. To avoid further damage to shrines and the faith, there must be community governance as in vogue in other religions, without any meddling by the government.

The Govt. seems to have completely ignored the fact that by taking over the Boards it has automatically become the caretaker & trustee and therefore, accountable to the community for the temples and their endowments. It is needless to re-state that these entities should have been governed according to the wishes and traditions of the Hindu samaj and not on the basis of the needs of the Govt. After all the Hindu community, despite unconstitutional takeover by the state, has neither surrendered nor transferred its ownership, management and governing rights of these places of worship to any other authority.

Some of the stipulations contained in the questionable Ordinance are deeply troubling as they are bound to politicize the temple management. Yet another contentious issue is the conduct and performance of the vital temple functions related to the traditional religious needs of the community. Rituals and other temple functions must be conducted according to the scriptures, wishes and sentiments of the Hindu community by specially trained persons and not on the dictates of a non-religious bureaucracy (attachments B and C):

***A) The ordinance further stipulates a three member committee for each Devaswom Board, all of them Hindus. The woman and the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe members are to be nominated by the Ministers belonging to the Hindu community. The other member has to be elected by the Hindu members of the Assembly.

The selection of the Board Member by a Hindu Minister or a Hindu MLA, who could be an atheist, a non-believer and non-practicing person wearing a Hindu name, or a person contemptuous of Hindus, could be counter productive and against the Hindu interests. The Board members must understand and have a deep knowledge of Hinduism and passion for preserving and propagating it. Such members must be selected by the community and religious leaders. The ministers and MLAs, under the very nature of India’s system of Govt., are “political persons” and not voted just by Hindus on a Hindu agenda or for protecting and propagating Hinduism. They take care of the political business of the society and state. Therefore, to avoid the presumption of political interference in setting up such organs it would make better sense if the “political persons” have no role in the nomination, election or selection of the members of religious boards.

***B) The suggestion of handing over the entire range of responsibilities connected with the recruitment of staff for the Devaswoms to the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC) is equally pregnant with irrational assumptions. i)" Under this scheme all appointments of officers and employees to man the [Devaswom] Board, for which direct recruitment is resorted to, shall be made from a select list of candidates furnished by the PSC"; and ii) The ordinance further provides that "preferably, a Hindu member of the PSC may discharge the function of conducting interview in the process of selection of candidates for appointments".

These religious entities are of and for the Hindus and therefore, must be run by the Hindus. The PSC, established by a secular administration, by its very mandate cannot work for the needs of the Hindu shrines. In these shrines the staff must believe in the faith and actively support its aims. The recruitment by PSC, which is neither trained nor equipped for staffing the religious institutions, defeats the very religious neutrality of the secular administration. How would Muslims and Christians react to such a proposal for staffing their religious institutions? Would the Vatican have their staff appointed by an Italian PSC?

***C) In addition to the above, the Principal Secretary of Devaswoms will be the special commissioner for both the boards. The ordinance seeks to set up audit committees to oversee the functioning of temples. The audit committees are required to submit quarterly reports to the Government.

These stipulations make it abundantly clear that Hinduism in Kerala is being treated as a Govt. domain - therefore, “Govt. controlled and run religion” and the Boards and the temples will become a part of politicized Govt. operation. Furthermore, the audit committees are not required to reports to public for transparency and scrutiny but only to Govt. which already controls and mismanages these shrines. To establish the bona fides of the Govt. it would be desirable if in the first place a white paper is issued on the operation of the Boards for review of their past performance.

Govt. Control of temples violates the Laws of the Land:

**1) In general, the Govt. is charged with the responsibility of upholding the law but in the present case the state has seriously violated the constitution : a) by denying Hindus their fundamental 'Religious Rights’ guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution (which guarantee to public the establishment and maintenance of religious institutions; to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and to administer such property in accordance with law); and, b) by gross misuse and abuse of state powers under Concurrent List (Article 246 (2) , Seventh Schedule) on religious institutions by unwarranted acquisition of temples and squarely discriminating against Hindu religious institutions, leaving Christian, Islamic and institutions of other religious formations free from Govt. interference.

**2) Anticipating possible dishonorable designs of trouble makers and anti- national elements in various administrations the Indian Parliament through an Act in 1991 specifically legislated that –“the status of religious places, as on August 15, 1947 shall be retained". A faithful implementation of these laws will require removal of the proposed unconstitutional govt. control upon Hindu temples in Kerala

**3) It should be noted that : a) The Karnataka High Court has struck down the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowment Act, 1997 terming it unconstitutional, stating that the legislation violated Articles 14, 25 and 26 of the Constitution which provided for right to equality, freedom of conscience and freedom of profession, practice and propagation of religion and also the freedom to manage the religious affairs; and additionally
b) the Allahabad High Court has directed the Central and UP authorities to prepare a scheme for constituting a Board for Hindu religious organizations on the pattern of the UP Muslim Waqf Board. Both these vital verdicts corroborate the argument that the Govt. must not meddle in temples and endowments.

**4) In a landmark judgment with far reaching implications, the Supreme Court has recently ruled that any law placed under the Constitution's Ninth Schedule after April 24, 1973, providing immunity from legal challenges are subject to scrutiny of courts if they violated fundamental rights. This would be applicable to the Ordinance in question and regulations framed thereunder.

Our contention encompasses the legal and philosophical commitment of the secular Indian State - that the management and administration of the religious institutions, their estates and places of worship, must reside in the hands of the representative bodies of the believers. The intrusion by the authorities in an otherwise autonomous domain could constitute a serious charge against the state itself for being a leading instrument of dismantling Hinduism. The Waqf Board of Muslims and the management of Christian churches and religious institutions have vast funds, properties and endowments, in addition to the immense flow of foreign funds - yet their independence and autonomy is left intact!

The state authorities seem oblivious that under the provisions of the Indian constitution, controlling, discriminating, managing, reforming or patronizing religions is completely and fully outside the parameters of government jurisdiction. Thus, there could be justification for the allegation of fraud on Hindus by taking over their religious shrines and resources on flimsy grounds of mismanagement and thereby bringing the progress and propagation of Hinduism to a grinding halt.
Shocking Reverse Discrimination: How discriminatory and constitutionally unsound it is that on the one hand the Indian Govt. subsidizes the "Hajj" pilgrimage of the Muslims to the tune of Rs. 380 crores annually (including subsidy to airlines), provides Rs. 1000 crores per year for Imams salaries, and reservations are made on the basis of minority status, but on the other hand the Kerala authorities are crusading to stealthily destroy the self- supporting foundations and structures of Hindu places of worship by putting them under state control. Democratic and secular governments do not patronize or penalize religions. Such extra legal actions constitute a reverse discrimination against the religion of India’s majority community.

The temples are not just for rituals by purohits but also the centers of community's socio-cultural and religious life, a place of learning with Acharya, for community sewa, dharma prachar and for character building. The exposition of the grandeur of Hinduism - its Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Bhagwad Geeta - its glorious ancient culture, spirituality and values that the community would like to project and propagate - would not only be denied by state control, but the deliberate and irreversible Govt. actions in liquidating resources of endowments meant for sustenance in perpetuity could stop these for good.

The Govt. proposal for Reconstituting the Boards without community management is deeply flawed, undemocratic and an affront to the entire Hindu Samaj: As proven by the questionable functioning of the officially appointed Devaswom Board in Kerala, Govt. take over of shrines and their assets on flimsy grounds of mismanagement and denial of any role to Hindu community and religious leaders is a brazen violation of Hindus rights. This is also deeply flawed for it violates the secular Indian Constitution. With an efficient and transparent management as the goal, the Board must be reconstituted by the Hindu community as discussed below. Some suggestions by government on formation of the Board, including audit, standing committees and reference to High Court for any irregularities could be included in the community Board constitution. If Hindus could prove worthy of holding successfully highest Govt. positions, executive positions in industry and other fields there is no reason to bar them from running and managing their own religious institutions.

We firmly believe that there is an urgent need to establish a representative yet autonomous Hindu Board enjoying jurisdiction over temple government and management. Therefore, we propose that the representatives of Hindu community, shrines, temples and legal experts and religious leaders from Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, etc. be motivated to convene an assembly to take charge of clearly defining the new legal framework for the community governance of temples and other religious places. Such an approach among other things could make the representative Board completely autonomous and transparent and thereby responsible and accountable for the entire administration. After all, such practice is already in vogue and permissible in the case of other religions. There is no reason why Hindus should be deprived of this right.

In the interim period it would be highly desirable that the Hindu religious leaders, temple and community representatives be invited to nominate a Committee to oversee the current management till an autonomous Board is constituted for taking over the charge.

These steps towards reforming the Boards should help provide a clean, transparent and effective management on the one hand and religious autonomy and Govt. non- involvement on the other. They will also culminate in restoring the constitutionally mandated relationship between religion and state.

In no other country in the world, of course unless the regime is despotic, dictatorial, autocratic, colonial, imperialist, inhuman and irreligious, a Govt. would launch an unprecedented assault on the founding and functional pillars of the national majority's religious heritage as is being done in Kerala. Violation of majority's freedom in the arena of managing its places of religious worship and intrusion and imposition of governmental dictates, will justify the charge against the state of being anti- Hindu and anti-national for shackling and debilitating Hinduism - a faith that is the single most important unifying factor in India's body politic.

Hon'ble Governor Bhatia: May we request that you exercise your leadership for strongly advising the defaulting state Govt. on its improprieties in this regard and have the flawed Devaswom ordinance annulled.

Further, in order to abide by the constitutional and legal provisions, the Kerala Govt. must take steps to denationalize and liquidate its control upon temples and restore their jurisdiction to the Hindu community. Such steps would be legal, pragmatic, non controversial and will be in keeping with the high ideals of secularism and democracy. Here are some of the measures that could be taken by the state during the transitional period to safeguard the Hindu infrastructure while denationalization is underway:

a) Declare a time table for ending Govt. control of Temples and for transferring their jurisdiction in its entirety to an Autonomous Hindu board;b) Make the endowments department transparent and open to public scrutiny with immediate effect; c) freeze all plans and actions in the domain of temples except for their routine maintenance, pujaris salaries, temple rituals, etc. ; d) End unconstitutional taxation of temples and diversion of their revenues ; ande) Set up a Hindu Council, nominated by Hindu organizations like Dharma Sansad and Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha to prevent anti- Hindu management and assure oversight, transparency and constructive guidance of endowment department and Devaswom Boards till denationalization is realized

Sir, such bold actions by you will effectively end the flagrant violation of "fundamental human rights and freedom of religion” for Hindus in the state. As already stated the nationalization of temples has been imposed on flimsy pretexts of mismanagement, only to put them under the control and authority of irreligious, un-committed and less than honest administrations. Such Govt. control of temples is being used in numerous ways as the central instrument of attack on Hinduism.

Hon'ble Governor Bhatia, it is our hope and earnest request , that you and your government will take expeditious measures as indicated above for defusing a potential ticking bomb that is waiting to explode due to trampling upon the religious sentiments and rights of India’s majority community.

Sincerely, Dr. Jagan Kaul February 18, 2007 Krishan Bhatnagar Hindu Jagran Forum (USA) email:


Attachment A

1) Court directs committee to probe Kerala temple body graft

India news
From correspondents in Kerala, India, 04:31 PM IST
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
A division bench of the Kerala High Court Tuesday appointed a three-member high level team to probe corruption charges against the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that runs many temples in the state, including the famous Sabarimala shrine.
The bench comprising Chief Justice V.K. Bali appointed a committee led by former Supreme Court judge K.S. Paripoornan, former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director D.R. Karthikeyan and former judge Tulasidas and asked them to submit a report in six months.
The bench gave the verdict in response to a series of petitions alleging large scale corruption in appointments and purchases by the Devaswom board in the past three years.
The TDB manages and runs temples in the southern districts of Kerala, including the money-spinning Sabarimala temple which is expected to net revenue of more than Rs.1 billion in the ongoing festival season that closes Jan 20.
The previous Congress-led United Democratic Front appointed the present three-member TDB board after it assumed power in 2001.

2) Kerala HC: committee to probe Govt. Appointed Temple body graft, January 3, 2007

KOCHI: The Kerala High Court yesterday set up a three-member committee to probe corruption charges against a board that runs many temples in the state.

The committee led by former Supreme Court judge K S Paripoornan with former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director D R Karthikeyan and former judge Tulasidas as members has been asked to submit a report on the case against the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) within six months.
The TDB manages and runs temples in the southern districts of Kerala, including the money-spinning Sabarimala temple which is expected to net revenue of more than Rs1bn in the ongoing festival season that closes on January 20.
The autonomous temple authority also runs a number of schools, colleges and cultural institutions.The TDB has been accused of misappropriating money donated by devotees, corruption in purchases and taking bribe while recruiting staff. The state's Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had earlier submitted a report to the government on the irregularities in the TDB deals.
The court said it was the court's duty to ensure that the money donated by the devotees is not misused or wasted and hence the order.
The previous Congress-led United Democratic Front appointed the present board with G Raman Nair as its president and M B Srikumar and Punalur Madhu as members.
While welcoming the court verdict, Temple Affairs Minister G Sudhakaran said the government would soon issue an ordinance making amendments in the laws governing the three temple administration boards in the state.
Meanwhile, the issue has widened the rift between two powerful organizations representing the dominant Nair and Ezhava communities.
The Nair Service Society and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam had earlier decided to join hands to strengthen Hindu unity.
NSS general secretary P K Narayana Panicker sought the resignation of all the TDB members in the light of the probe while SNDP general secretary Vellappally Nateshan alleged that Panicker had secured employment for 16 of his relatives in the Guruvayur Devaswam Board. cu_no=2&item_no=125382&version=1&template_id=40&parent_id=22

Attachment B

Kerala: Devaswom ordinance promulgated
Monday, February 05,2007 Kerala Governor R.L. Bhatia has signed the ordinance seeking to amend the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Board Acts, leading to the dissolution of the two bodies. The dissolution has been achieved through an amendment that reduces the term of office of members to two years.

The number of members on each Board has been raised to three, of which one will be from the Scheduled Caste community and another woman. The age limit for male members has been fixed at 50, while it will be 60 for women. The ordinance seeks to set up standing committees on finance, works development and devotional service for the two Boards. The Principal Secretary for Devaswoms will be the special commissioner for both boards. The ordinance seeks to set up audit committees to oversee the functioning of temples. The audit committees are required to submit quarterly reports to the Government.The Cabinet had recently cleared the provisions in the ordinance before recommending it to the Governor. The ordinance has been promulgated following allegations of corruption, and it will, in effect, ensure firm Governmental control on the functioning of these two bodies. The Board was last reconstituted in 2004, with the induction of two members. The ordinance has evoked mixed reactions, but derived an extra mileage from the strong support the Government's action got from the Nair Service Society and the conditional support from the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam. The Yogam appeared to be cautious in its reaction, but welcomed the ordinance if it were to ensure reservation norms. Yogam general secretary Vellappally Natesan, in an interview to a television channel, however, said the Government should have consulted Hindu organizations. Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy said the United Democratic Front welcomed the ordinance if it were promulgated in the spirit of the aborted ordinance the Government run by it previously had planned to promulgate.
Another notable opponent of the Devaswom ordinance is the Nationalist Congress Party leader K. Karunakaran, who termed the move hasty and unjustified.

Attachment C

Recruitment to Devaswoms by PSC Special Correspondent The Hindu Feb. 6, 2007
Devaswoms have to ensure conduct of rites THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007, promulgated by the Governor on Sunday, envisages handing over the entire responsibilities connected with the recruitment of staff for the Devaswoms to the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC).
The ordinance, published in the gazette on Monday, says: "All appointments of officers and employees in the administrative service of the [Devaswom] Board, for which direct recruitment is resorted to, shall be made from a select list of candidates furnished by the PSC... "
The ordinance further says that "preferably, a Hindu member of the PSC may discharge the function of conducting interview in the process of selection of candidates for appointments."
The ordinance gives the Government the power to have any allegation of irregularity, corruption, mal-administration or misappropriation of funds by the Devaswom Board inquired into by a commission appointed through a gazette notification. The commission has to be a sitting judge or retired judge of the High Court, who is a Hindu.
The ordinance stipulates the constitution of three standing committees of the Board: one for finance and resource mobilization, another for works, development and environment, and the still another for establishment and devotional services. The Board itself has to constitute these standing committees, each consisting of two of its members, one of whom will function as chairman of the committee concerned.
The decision of the standing committee has to be unanimous, as far as possible. In the event of any difference of opinion on any subject, the matter has to be referred to the Board for its decision. The ordinance adds a new clause to the original Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act clearly specifying the duties of the Devaswom Board. The duties cover not only matters relating to the administration of the financial and development affairs of the temples but also those connected with traditional rites being performed in the temples. The Board has to ensure that these are done efficiently.
The ordinance stipulates the number of members in each Devaswom Board as three, all of them Hindus. One of them has to be a woman and one a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.

The woman member and the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member are to be nominated by the Ministers belonging to the Hindu community.

The other member has to be elected by the Hindu members of the Assembly.

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