Tamil Nadu government has decided to digitise papers regarding properties and assets owned by temples across the state — estimated to number over 44,000 — and make them available in the public domain, in line with a poll promise made by Chief Minister MK Stalin. This falls way short of meeting the long-standing Hindu demand of freeing temples from state control.
These sources said that the government would dilute a campaign by the BJP and RSS, as well as spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev, to get temples in Tamil Nadu “freed from the clutches of the government”, alleging misappropriation and neglect. A senior official said affairs surrounding the running of temples in the state will now be transparent, “leaving no room for certain groups to appropriate assets in the name of religion”.
As the next step, the official said, “all temple assets and land records would be registered in the name of deities… to prevent individuals and other entities from attempts to usurp assets”. The digitisation decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department Sekar Babu.
Recently, the matter of control over temples in Tamil Nadu had blown up into a controversy after Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan, reacting to Jaggi Vasudev’s demand to “free temples”, called him a “commercial operator” and a “publicity hound” in an interview.
Rajan, whose uncle MT Subramania Mudaliar had played a role in the enactment of the Hindu Religious Endowment Act, 1921, and whose family continues to be part of the administration of Madurai Meenakshi temple, said in a tweet on Wednesday, “Most warriors for ‘privatising temples’ have negligible contribution, if any at all… In fact, many of the ‘privatise’ dispositions historically made a living out of the temples’ assets and donations received.”
In the tweet, Rajan said that evidence with him against Vasudev convinced him beyond all probable doubt that he had “repeatedly, consistently and continuously violated multiple laws and statutes”. He said he would submit these evidences to relevant authorities.
In response to Rajan’s statements, Isha Foundation listed out Jaggi Vasudev’s “contributions” and “services”, and said “all of this work has been done with the support of people and the government of Tamil Nadu”. “We are therefore appalled that a man (Vasudev) of his stature has been subject to the minister’s unparliamentary and uncalled for personal attack… It is deeply unfortunate that a person holding high public office should resort to name-calling of a highly respected public figure.”
Elaborating on the digitisation plan, a government official said, numerous cases were pending in courts regarding temples. “We decided to digitise to the core,” the official said, adding that the task is mammoth, involving scanning of tonnes of land records and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. “It will help the government take action in case of illegal possessions and encroachments… The GIS mapping will help prepare digital models with 3D images capturing all the properties of a temple.”
The digitisation work will be overseen by Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Commissioner J Kumaragurubaran, who had successfully accomplished digitisation and GIS mapping of about 34,000 acres of industrial land in the state to showcase the same for potential investors.