PUDUCHERRY: Lease taxes running to a few crores are due to the government from farmers to whom temple lands have been leased out for cultivation.
Lands belonging to temples across the Union Territory are commonly being leased out to farmers by the Department of Hindu Religious Institutions. According to the Pondicherry Cultivating Tenants (Payment of Fair Rent) Act, 1970, “fair rent” shall be 40 per cent of the average gross produce or its value in money in the case of wet land. In the case of wet land where irrigation is supplemented by lifting water, and in other kinds of land, 35 per cent and 33.33 per cent or its value in money shall be considered fair rent. The Act explains explicitly that in every harvest, the landowner is entitled to one-fifth of the straw or stalk of the crops. But there have been allegations that these lands have been leased out without a written document or a registration, and as per the lease agreed upon verbally, 10 sacks of paddy, worth Rs. 700 each are only given as lease annually for the last 40 years, resulting in huge losses for the government.
Chief Minister V. Vaithilingam, who also holds the Hindu Religious Institutions portfolio, told The Hindu that there is no account of what kind of land has been leased out to farmers, and how much lease tax must have been paid to the government over the last 40 years. The government will be able to consider the issue only if each temple provides details of land leased out and furnishes accounts for the money due to it.