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(The first part of this series traced the history of government control of temples, second dealt with whether other religious places of worship have similar government control. This is the third and concluding part. The articles are part of the Matchup section that provides a platform for exchange of conflicting ideas)

The Chidambaram Natarajar temple has seen a long tussle between government and deekshitar priests over who should control it. As far back as 1885, the priests asked the Madras high court to declare the temple a private one but the court ruled that it was a place of public worship.

When MGR was chief minister of the state, a government order was issued appointing an executive officer for Chidambaram temple on August 5, 1987. The deekshitars went to court against the order. The high court upheld the order while the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by deekshitars against the order.

In 2008, during DMK rule, control of temple went to government. In a previous submission to the court, the priests had conveyed that in 2007 the temple had a revenue of Rs 37,199 out of which Rs 37,000 was spent on temple maintenance.

In the first five years during which the government controlled the temple, the income was more than Rs 3 crore. This means an average income of more than Rs 60 lakhs per year, which is a 200 times increase. The government handed back control of the temple with much better finances. The above example shows that private control of temples will not make temple finances healthy and will only enrich private pockets. Yet, the same voices who speak against government control are against public works being carried out with temple revenue.

The above example shows that private control of temples will not make temple finances healthy and will only enrich private pockets. Yet, the same voices who speak against government control are against public works being carried out with temple revenue.

In some places, because of various land reforms and changes in registration rules, the patta of temple lands have changed to private owners. In the last nine years, some 8,031 acres belonging to nearly 1,200 temples have been retrieved. In 2016-17 alone, some 1,120 acres belonging to 70 temples were given back to the temples because of the efforts of the HR&CE department. Between 2011 and 2016, more than 6,050 people have been added to the list of rent payers to temples.

In 2019-20, nearly 1,450 acres of land belonging to 194 temples have been given back to temples through patta transfer. The HR&CE department has been fighting court cases at various levels for patta transfer of temple lands back to temples. This year, 46 grounds of Mylapore Kapaleeswarar temple land encroached by a school has been opened for use as public playground for children from poor families. The school administration owes Rs 1 crore of rent dues to the temple out of which Rs 18 lakh has been collected.

This year, 46 grounds of Mylapore Kapaleeswarar temple land encroached by a school has been opened for use as public playground for children from poor families. The school administration owes Rs 1 crore of rent dues to the temple out of which Rs 18 lakh has been collected.

In the present DMK regime, lands worth Rs 1,130 crore have already been retrieved. Some 5,000 acres of temple land has been surveyed.  The HR&CE department is fighting 188 cases in courts for this.

It is said that it is the people who are asking that government should not control temples. But this is not a new one. When Justice Party was ensuring that the government has a say in government control, newspapers like Swadesamitran and The Hindu criticized it.

The RSS has created several organizations to fight government control of temples and ensure HR&CE department is dismantled. One of them celebrated its 50th years recently. Another group has said that an Ayodhya-like attack is required to get back temples from government. There has been an effort to bring other voices to back this campaign so it appears like a public demand. But this remains a Sangh Parivar demand.


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