Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Andhra government has asked temples to break their fixed deposits (FDs) prematurely to pay the Endowments Department’s pending statutory fees. The dues have been pending for the last eight years. In this regard, the Endowments Department’s Commissioner M Hari Jawaharlal issued a circular on June 18.
The circular directs Executive Officers (EO) of temples to clear pending statutory fees failing which disciplinary action will be taken. While the department claims that the clearance of dues is essential for maintaining the temples, BJP calls it an onslaught on Hindu temples. The department states it needs money to support temples in rural regions with pooja materials and ritual ingredients; hence, it needs funds from clearing arrears.
According to the 1966 Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions Act (APCHRA), temples earning more than five lakhs annually must pay 21.5% of their income to the Endowments department. Department records indicate that 1776 endowment institutions have 353.80 crores of rupees in arrears. Temples have remitted 42 crores rupees in April and May.
The latest government circular instructs temples to clear their pending dues even if they need to encash their fixed deposit receipts. Deputy Commissioners of the Department have been entrusted with the responsibility to identify all those who don’t pay arrears and submit draft articles of charge.
“Several applications are pending for various work to be carried out to which the department committed Rs 225.82 crores. The department also has bills to pay. We wish to provide the best facilities for devotees; for all this, funds are required. Several temples are keeping the money as FDs instead of clearing their arrears”, Andhra Pradesh Endowments Minister Kottu Satyanarayana has been quoted as saying.
Reports say the TDP, which was in power from 2014 to 2019, and Reddy’s YSRCP, which came to power in 2019, failed to collect the fees. Andhra Pradesh Brahmin Association President Dronamraju Ravi Kumar has demanded action against officials responsible for the pendency of dues. He also questioned the government’s decision to ask temples to break their FDs prematurely.
“Who would come to the rescue of the temples if there is another pandemic like COVID-19? Forcing the temples to close FDs to pay all arrears at once is not right on the department’s part,” he said. He also pointed out that the endowments funds were to be divided between Andhra and Telangana in a 60-40 ratio after the bifurcation of the states.
The News Minute quotes BJP leader Dinakar Lanka, “Temples are being considered revenue generating assets. Temple money is for temple development. Why is the Endowments Department targeting only temples and not alluding to their power on other religious organizations?”
BJP state president Somu Veerraju has also written a letter to CM Jagan Reddy, saying the move would cripple the finances of Hindu temples. According to BJP, imams and pastors are paid the honorarium from the government fund whereas the honorarium for priests is paid from the contributions collected from the temples.