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Karnataka temple Bill

Context:

  • Recently the Karnataka government’s attempt to tweak the law which governs taxation of Hindu temples was stymied in the Legislative Council.
  • The Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill, 2024 which was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on February 19 and passed on February 22.
  • However the bill was rejected two days later in the Legislative Council.

What changes were proposed for the taxation of temples?

  • The Bill was introduced to amend multiple provisions in the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997.
  • The first and the most contentious clause in the bill was that it intended to divert 10% of the gross income of institutions whose gross annual income exceeds Rs 1 crore to a common pool for the maintenance of temples, instead of the existing 10% of the net income of institutions whose gross annual income exceeds Rs 10 lakh.
  • Net income of institutions is calculated based on the profits of the temple after accounting for its expenses, whereas gross income simply refers to the total amount of money which temple makes.
  • In addition to the above provision, the Bill also dedicated 5% of the income of institutions earning between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore to the common pool, changing the previous income bracket from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh.
  • The common fund pool was created in 2011 by amending the 1997 Act.
  • If the recent amendments to the original act had been passed, they would have generated an extra Rs 60 crore, from 87 temples with incomes of over Rs 1 crore and 311 temples with income over Rs 10 lakh.
  • Section 19 of the Act lists the purposes for which the common fund may be utilised which include religious studies and propagation, temple maintenance, and other charitable causes.
  • It had said the enhanced funds would be used to grant aid to lower income temples, provide terminal benefits to ailing priests, and also provide scholarships to children from families of priests.
  • Under Section 25 of the Act, temples and religious institutions are required to form a “committee of management” which consist of nine people, including a priest, at least one member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, two women, and one member of the locality of the institution.
  • The Bill also proposed to include, among the remaining four members, one person who is skilled in Vishwakarma hindu temple architecture and sculpture.
  • The Bill also gave the Rajya Dharmika Parishat the power to appoint the chairman of the above committees.
  • The Rajya Dharmika Parishat is a body which is appointed by the state government that is empowered to make decisions on a variety of subjects related to religion.
  • This includes variety of subjects like religious disputes over practices and customs, whether a temple is a “composite institution” by allowing religious worship besides Hinduism, whether a temple is private, public or denominational, and whether a person is a hereditary trustee of a religious institution by virtue of succession.
  • Finally, the Bill also required the state government to create district-level and state high-level committees in order to oversee infrastructural projects that can facilitate pilgrimage to temples making more than Rs 25 lakh annually.

What were the criticisms against the amendments?

  • There is a widespread criticism that the bill is intended to “rob” temples and also that Hindu temples were being targeted.

How is temple revenue handled in other states?

  • Telangana’s approach shares most similarities with the Karnataka model.
  • Section 70 of the Telangana Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987 states that the Commissioner in charge of administration of religious institutions can create a “Common Good Fund”.
  • Religious institutions making more that Rs 50,000 annually are required to pay normally 1.5% of their annual income to the state government.
  • After the government is repaid for expenses it has incurred under the Telangana Act, the commissioner can also direct the remaining funds to the Common Good Fund.
  • These funds are utilised for the maintenance and renovations of temples, veda-pathasalas (religious schools) and also for the establishment of new temples.
  • But, Kerala employs an entirely different system where temples are often managed by state-run Devaswom (temple) Boards.
  • The state has five autonomous Devswom Boards that manage nearly 3,000 temples.
  • Each Devaswom Board has a budget which is allocated by the state government and is not required to share revenue figures.
  • The state has also enacted separate laws for each Devaswom board (besides Travancore and Cochin which are governed by the same Act), which deal with the administration and also management of temples under their aegis.

The post Karnataka temple Bill appeared first on Vajirao IAS.

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