For a department that manages over 33,000 temples, lack of funds is something that plagues the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department day-in and day-out. Be it the renovation of a temple or the conduct of a festival or even restoration of tanks, officials always say they are waiting for donor funds.
At the moment, works to desilt temple tanks, channels leading to them and rainwater harvesting structures in temples are pending for the same reason. “These works must be completed before September, otherwise tanks that are recharging points for many residential areas would not function. Vegetation on tank steps must also be removed,” said K. Mukundan, member of an Uzhavaarapani team.
“In Kancheepuram, there are several temple tanks that are in a bad shape and need to be restored. In some places, industrial waste and untreated sewage are being let into them. People also dump garbage. The temples say they don’t have funds,” said. N.K. Ramajayam, founder, Sri Jagathguru Sevas, that cleans temple tanks.
Residents of Triplicane have been complaining that the Sri Parthasarathyswamy temple tank is in a bad shape with girders removed from some shed stored in it. “There is heavy vegetation on the bed and the steps too. For several years, ever since the temple tank was connected to stormwater drains, the groundwater table in the area has remained at a decent level,” said G. Guru, a resident.
Sources in the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department said that each temple administration was taking up work to rejuvenate tanks. The department was coordinating with local bodies and district administrations wherever necessary to locate water channels.
A former official of the department said that each temple is a separate unit and funds from various collections can only go towards that temple. “If the government wants, surplus funds from one temple could be given to poor and needy temples. Around 60-70 % of the temple’s funds go towards establishment charges — salaries and other expenses. Only 30 % would be spent on the temple actually,” he explained.
Temples used to have plenty of property and money donated by people, including kingssaid S. Vedhantham, president, Tamil Nadu Village Temple Priests Association. “The Department does not show enough interest in collecting rents and leases. Other government departments do a much better job, Steps must be taken to increase income from properties, instead they are collecting fees for darshan from ordinary devotees,” he said.
Sources in the HR and CE department said that the government cannot give funds for temples since other religious institutions too will ask for funds. “ However, there are some exceptions. For small temples, the government does give ₹6 crore as allocation for conservation and for one-time pujas, it deposits ₹1 lakh for each temple,” the official explained.
“If a temple or a tank goes into disuse, that means the local community is not interested in its upkeep. At least, you need someone to say you need funds for a temple,” said a HR and CE official.
“ Our department is very small compared to the number of temples we manage. Our main role is property management and to coordinate.Emergency works never wait for funds. In some cases trustees too are hurdles,” he said.