Udayavani interview: “It was BJP who first took money out of temple Hundis”, says Ramalinga Reddy

Team Udayavani, Feb 28, 2024, 1:00 PM IST

Karnataka Muzrai Minister Dr. Ramalinga Reddy in an exclusive interview with Udayavani talked about the provisions of the recent bill for amending the Religious Endowments Act, as well as rebutted to opposition BJP’s allegations.

The “Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill- 2024” which is now at the center of controversy was defeated in the upper house. The government, taking it as a prestige issue, decided to table it again in the Legislative Assembly.

Meanwhile, the opposition called it an “anti-Hindu” move to attack the Congress government. Muzrai minister Ramalinga Reddy, who was busy preparing to table the amendment bill in the lower house on Monday, spoke at length about the same bill to “Udayavani”.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Q: The opposition has been alleging that the government has no money due to the guarantees. By accessing temple donations, is the government proving them right?

BJP was the first to touch temple donation boxes. During the B.S  Yeddyurappa’s tenure as Chief Minister i.e., in 2011, an amendment was introduced to the 2003 act and the then government accessed temples’ donation for the first time. Then why did you (BJP) take it? Shouldn’t the Act have been repealed? Didn’t it mean that the BJP, which is accusing us of taking a ten percent cut, took the first credit for this?

Q: Can’t the government even allocate Rs 50 crore rupees per year for the development of temples? Has it come to a state of taking funds from one temple and reallocating them to another?

It is not that the government does not have money. Let’s assume that this time an allocation is made in the budget (for temples). it may not be allocated in the next budget. Should the project (for the temples’ welfare) be abandoned then? Under the scheme, we are going to provide life insurance premiums to priests and temple employees and a stipend to their children. It should have a permanent source of funds as well as it should be continuous. It should not be stopped even for a year.

After all, BJP got Rs 8 crores by way of the (2011) amendment. Why did they do that? It’s just that we did a little more than they did. They applied it to the net collections (of temples). We have applied a 10% cut on gross collections. It would yield about Rs 50-60 crore revenue.

Q: The opposition is alleging that donation boxes are being filled by the Shakti scheme and the same is being emptied by amending the act. What’s your reply to this?

I have some counter questions for those who are making these accusations – Why did you not allocate money from the government in four years (for temples’ welfare)? Even though the government got a grant for temples, why was it not allocated for the development of “C” grade temples? Employees were not given minimum facilities. If the employee dies, the compensation given to the dependents is merely Rs 35 thousand, which does not cover the funeral expenses. This sum will be upgraded to Rs two lakhs by this amendment.

Q: This act is being brought on the threshold of general elections. Will it not become another weapon for the opposition to target the government?

Even when the Assembly elections were approaching, they (BJP) created controversy by saying that minorities could not do business in hijab, halal, jatka cut, azaan, and temple fairs. What happened even after all these controversies? They failed miserably (in the Assembly elections) because people rejected them. People will give an appropriate answer in Lok Sabha elections also. If the BJP was concerned about temples’ priests and other employees, it should have supported the act.

Q: So, what are the benefits of amending the Act?

We have Rs 35,000 temples in the state. Out of which, 205 are classified as A-grade temples with an income of more than Rs 25 lakhs. Those with Rs 5 – 10 lakhs income are classified as grade “B” and those earning less than Rs 5 Lakhs as grade C. There are more than 34 thousand “C” grade temples. More than 40 thousand priests and employees are working there and this amendment has been brought to help them.

Out of the Rs 50-60 crores collected, Rs 2.5 lakhs each will be allocated for the development of one thousand temples totaling Rs 25 Cr. The number of temples will be raised to 5,000 in 5 years. Of the remaining, Rs 15 crores will be allotted for the construction of houses for 750 priests and employees, Rs 7-8 crores for payment of insurance premiums for 40 thousand people. Rs 5 crores will be given as a stipend for their children. All money goes to “C” class temples.

Q: Isn’t there an apprehension that the funds will be allocated to non-Hindu religious places as well?

Since the inception of this act, funds have been exclusively directed to respective temples under any government. Its usage is restricted solely for temple-related purposes and cannot be diverted to other religious institutions. Let them show proof of funds used for other religious institutions in 21 years.  As for the ‘Tasthik’, in 2006, the allocated amount was only Rs 6,000. By 2010, it doubled to Rs 12,000, and from 2013 to 2017, it reached Rs 48,000. It was a jump of Rs Rs 36,000 in our tenure. The current amendment aims to enhance this assistance further.

Q: Why is the ‘anti-Hindu’ label being attached to the amendment?

They are just spreading misinformation. Whenever Siddaramaiah is in power, they spread such propaganda. To tell the truth, it is the BJP who are anti-Hindu for neither improving the grade C temples nor allowing them to develop.  They are anti-Hindu for not paying attention to issues of temple priests and employees.

Q: If so, what is your answer to their allegations?

Earlier, when I was the Home Minister, they used to spread slander like this. They criticized that more murders took place during the Congress period. Then I brought a short booklet called “Nagna Satya” to bring out the truth. This time, we will bring out a book regarding the amendment bill. It will be distributed to the people.

Q: What happened to the Congress government’s plan to develop 100 Ram temples?

There is indeed such a plan. Let’s wait and see how it unfolds in the future. Currently, Rs 100 crore has been allocated to Anjanadri, Rs 155 crore to the Mantralaya Bridge, and approximately Rs 80 crore to Srishaila development. Previously, the BJP had allocated a total of Rs 242 crore to Muzrai. However, not a single rupee was directed towards “C” grade temples.


Translated from a Kannada interview by Vijay Kumar Chandaragi

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