Minister denies government neglect of temples
The State government came under fire in the Assembly on Tuesday for its failure to recover alienated temple land, the state of affairs in the Devaswom Boards, and its attitude towards inducting women into temple administration.
The Opposition came down on the government during debates on two pieces of legislation — the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions (Amendment) Bill, 2013, and the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill, 2013 — both of which were referred to the subject committee.
The Opposition pressed for a vote on its resolution rejecting the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions (Amendment) Bill, which found the ruling front scraping through with a margin of just two votes. While 48 Opposition members voted in favour of the Bill, the ruling front could muster just 50.
The Bills seek to replace ordinances that have been promulgated since November 2012 when the term of office of the Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar Devaswom Boards expired.
The ordinances seek to amend the relevant provisions making way for Hindu MLAs to elect members to the boards. (The election of Board members was held in the Assembly on Monday). The Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions (Amendment) Bill has an additional provision that seeks to exclude women from the administration of the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom boards, besides omitting Kerala Public Service Commission appointments to the Devaswom Boards. Members cutting across party lines expressed fear over the intrusion of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers into temple administration.
The Opposition also criticised the government for its decision to return the administration of some temples in Malabar to the trustees, who were connected to some caste organisations.
It was a matter of pride for former Devaswom Minister G. Sudhakaran when he came in for high praise from the ruling front members for the manner in which he handled temple affairs and set a trend in temple administration that was worth emulating.
Replying to the separate debates on the bills, Devaswom Minister V.S. Sivakumar said the area committees under the Malabar Devaswom Board would be constituted soon. He denied the charge that the State government was neglecting temples, a majority of which were struggling economically. He said the government had taken steps to recover alienated temple land, but there were many hurdles because of the numerous court cases. Directions had been issued to the Devaswom boards to pursue these cases relentlessly, he said.
During the debate, there were repeated demands for a uniform Devaswom board for the management of temples. There were also appeals for liberal assistance to temples that were not financially stable and for revision of pay scales of temple staff.