Tirupati or Ajmer: What will the Ayodhya Ram temple trust look like?

Topics Ram temple | Ayodhya

With the Home Ministry actively deliberating on setting up a Ram temple trust for the construction of the temple in Ayodhya, there are questions on the organisational structure, functions and powers that will be vested in such an entity. Home Minister Amit Shah had earlier clarified that no Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member would be part of the trust and the government wouldn't fund it.

There are several temple and religious trusts in the country that are under the control of both, state and Central governments. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) trust, which manages the Tirupati temple, the second richest shrine in India, is mix of politicians, bureaucrats and corporates. India Cements owner and former Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) president N Srinivasan is a member of the board. The trust was set up by the British government in 1932 and currently functions under the guidelines laid down in the Andhra Pradesh Charitable & Hindu Religious Institutions & Endowments Act, 1987. It can have a maximum of 15 trustees appointed by the state government. Since it came to power, the Jagan Reddy government has made a slew of appointments on the board. In September this year, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister appointed his uncle Y V Subba Reddy as the chairman of the TTD. Any person who does not profess to be a Hindu, or suffers from leprosy, or is deaf and dumb, is disqualified from being a board trustee. The Act lays down the functions of the head priest and other priests in running the temple affairs and accounting for the donations received and money spent. The TTD also pays seven per cent of its income every year to the state government and sends its budget proposals to it. In 2019-20, the TTD had a budget of Rs 3,116 crore. Its revenues in 2018-19 were Rs 2,894 crore, received largely from donations. A few years earlier, TTD even opened a demat account to trade in the stock market, as it was receiving many donations in the form of physical shares held by devotees. The TTD is fighting a legal battle to keep itself out of the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, although a statutory body established by the government it is obliged to provide information sought under RTI.

Quite like the Tirupati temple, the Sai Baba temple at Shirdi and Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir are run by their respective governments. While the Maharashtra government calls the shots in appointing the management committee of the Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan Trust, after J&K was turned into a union territory, the Central government, through the Lieutenant Governor, controls the management of the Vaishno Devi shrine. Perhaps one of the few prominent places of worship that are directly governed by the central government is the Dargah Khwaja Sahib at Ajmer in Rajasthan. In 1955, the Jawaharlal Nehru administration had enacted a law to administer the affairs of the world-famous shrine. The Dargah Committee, which looks into the affairs and manages donations and the Dargah’s properties, comprises of nine members, all of whom are appointed by the Centre. These members can only be Hanafi Muslims, estimated to make up 70 per cent of the Muslim population in India. However, there have been concerns on unaccountable financial practices over the years with the Dargah Committee, which functions under the Ministry of Minority Affairs. There are allegations of donations being siphoned off and the shrine’s properties being used inappropriately.

This is different from how mosques in India are generally run. Mosques in India are ‘wakf’ and are their upkeep and functioning is overseen by respective state wakf boards. In 1964, the Indian government set up a Central Wakf Council to oversee the affairs of various state wakf boards. In 2013, the outgoing Manmohan Singh government expanded the Centre's power by giving the Central Wakf Council the power to advise the Central and state governments and various state wakf boards on administrative and other matters. The Central Wakf Council, whose ex-officio chairman is the union minority affairs minister, keeps an eye on the functioning of all state boards. State wakf boards have to pay one per cent of their net annual income to the Central Wakf Council to keep it financed. In addition to the minority affairs minister, the Central Wakf Council is run by an all-Muslim team consisting judges of the Supreme Court or High Court, eminent professionals from the field of financial management, engineering, architecture and other domains and representatives of various Muslim organisations, among others. At least two members must be women. At present, the two women on the Central Wakf Council are Kolkata-based academician Syed Tanveer Nasreen and Tamil Nadu’s Munawari Begum.

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