Government Control of temples

Government control of temples started with East India Company 'annexing' Thanjavur in 1798, during the reign of Serfoji II. Around the same time the East India Company also brought Mysore under its control. Bengal was already under East India Company rule after the 'conquest of Bengal' in 1757 by Robert Clive.

At the time of annexure of Indian kingdoms, vast tracts of land were 'owned' by temples, particularly in the Thanjavur, Madurai and Tirunelveli areas. Over long periods these had been donated to temples for their preservation and sustenance.

The East India Company decided to take responsibility for temple (and Muslim places of worship) lands in South and East India. Accordingly two acts were brought into force:

1. Regulation XIX of Bengal Code, 1810
2. Regulation VII of Madras Code, 1817

"For the appropriation of the rents and produce of lands granted for the support of Mosques, Hindu temples and colleges, and other purposes, for the maintenance and repair of bridges, sarais, kattras, and other public buildings; and for the custody and disposal of nazul property or escheats, in the Presidency of Fort Williams in Bengal and the Presidency of Fort Saint George, some duties were imposed on the Boards of Revenue…."

  • Even East India Company was conscious of the properties of Temples and need for safeguarding them
  •  Churches are not mentioned specifically, because there were few and they had no notable properties

In 1863, the British Government decided to hand over control of temple properties to be managed by Trustees of respective temples.

The Religious Endowments Act, 1863

  • Nominate Trustees, Manager or Superintendent
  • Transfer to trustees.. Property in charge of Revenue Board
  • Government not to hold charge henceforth of property of temples
  • it shall not be lawful for the Central Government or any State Government to undertake or resume the superintendence of any land or other property
  • Cases in which endowments are partly for religious and partly for secular purposes.


Beginning of the Loot, 1927

Government, or more precisely the administrative officers, commonly and deservedly called 'babus' saw in the temple properties a vast treasure trove that they could usurp and exploit as they pleased. Accordingly, the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1926(Act II of 1927) was engineered and imposed. Under this act, Government could just 'issue a notification' and take control of temple properties. The other interesting feature was this act applied ONLY to Hindu Temples – the earlier two regulations and act were also applicable for Mosques!
  • Only for Hindu Religious Endowments! Until now earlier laws had talked of Mosques, Hindu Temples and other religious properties!!
  • Allowed Government to 'issue a notification' and take-over the temple property & management

Consolidating the control over Hindu religious properties.  1951

In 1951, the then Madras government passed THE MADRAS HINDU RELIGIOUS AND CHARITABLE  ENDOWMENTS ACT, 1951, repealing all earlier acts, passed since 1817, thereby consolidating Government's hold on Hindu Temple properties.
This act gave absolute powers to 'Commissioners' and their paraphernalia of supporting babus to take over temple properties and their management.
In 1954, Supreme Court in a landmark judgment stuck down several sections of this act as unconstitutional. It even held a section to be ' beyond the competence of Madras legislature'

Later after the reorganization of southern states in 1956, each state legislature enacted their own legislation to control Hindu temples and their properties.

The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act 1959 & Karnataka Religious Institutions and Charitable Institutions Act 1997

Tamil Nadu government enacted, Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious And Charitable Endowments Act, 1959. In blatant disregard of any constitutional propriety, the then Tamil Nadu Government under K Kamaraj, included verbatim all of the sections that were stuck down by the Supreme Court in 1954 as unconstitutional (sections 63-69 of the ’51 act are reproduced verbatim as sections 71-76 in the ’59 act!)

Mysore State and later, Karnataka continued with the1951 Madras act (and other related acts) till 1997, when the The Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 was passed. This act was held to be unconstitutional in its entirety, on several grounds, including violation of Articles 16, 25, 26 of the Constitution, by Karnataka High Court and stuck down on September 8 2006. Since then Karnataka has enacted the The Karnataka Act 27 of 2011 which is broad based, appears to be equitable and promotes the preservation of temples, their customs and properties. For example, the 2011 Act proposes setting of autonomous Hindu bodies at the state and district levels that includes agama, and Vedic scholars, to guide the functioning of temples.

Even now 'notifications' are issued in an arbitrary and unfair manner – in 1971 Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple properties were taken over by an 'ex-parte' order of 'Dy Commissioner' on April 27 1970. Similarly, thru an earlier ex-parte order of 'Dy. Commissioner' on July 18 1964, the properties Sri Sugavaneswarar Temple in Salem was taken over. Almost all properties of major temples in South India were 'taken over' thru 'ex-parte' orders issued by 'Dy. Commissioner' under section 64(5)a of the 1959 Act.

Sections 63 in the '51 Act and sections 71 in the '59 Act are reproduced below:

Sections 63 in the '51 act:
63. (1) Issue of notice to show cause why institution should not be notified.-Notwithstanding that a religious institution is governed by a scheme settled or deemed to have been settled under this Act, where the Commissioner has reason to believe that such institution is being mismanaged and is satisfied that in the interests of its administration, it is necessary to take proceedings under this Chapter, the Commissioner may, by notice published in the prescribed manner, call upon the trustee and all other persons having interest to show cause why such institution should not be notified to be subject to the provisions of this Chapter.
(2) Such notice shall state the reasons for the action proposed, and specify a reasonable time, not being less than one month from the date of the issue of the notice, for showing such cause.
(3) The trustee or any person having interest may thereupon prefer any objection he may wish to make to the issue of a notification as proposed.
(4) Such objection shall be in writing and shall reach the commissioner before the expiry of the time specified in the notice aforesaid or within such further time as may be granted by the Commissioner.

And here is the reading of Section 71 of the '59 Act!
71. (1) Not withstanding that a religious institution is governed by a scheme settled or deemed to have been settled under this Act, where the Commissioner has  reason to believe that such institution is being mismanaged and is satisfied that in the interests of its, administration, it is necessary to take proceedings under this Chapter, the Commissioner may, by notice published in the prescribed manner, call upon the trustee and all other persons having interest to show cause why such institution should not be notified to be subject to the provisions of this Chapter.
(2) Such notice shall state the reasons for the action proposed, and specify a reasonable time, not being less than one month from the date of the issue of the notice for showing such cause.
(3) The trustee or any person having interest may thereupon prefer any objection he may wish to make to the issue of a notification as proposed.
(4) Such objection shall be in writing and shall reach the Commissioner before the expiry of the time specified in the notice aforesaid or within such further time as may be granted by the Commissioner.

Copyright 2012, Temple Worshippers Society