(Only an overview provided here – not the full details of the mess 🙂 )
Temples and Charitable Institutions in Karnataka are governed by the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act 1997. This Act was challenged in the Karnataka High Court in Sri Sahasra Lingeshwara Temple, … vs State Of Karnataka.
In the year 2006, the Karnataka High Court passed a judgement in the above case and termed the entire Act of 1997 as illegal. This decision of the Karnataka High Court was challenged in the Supreme Court of India vide Civil Appeal 5924 of 2008. The Supreme Court has stayed the judgement of the Karnataka High Court until final judgement, which is yet to happen.
Meanwhile in the years 2011 and 2012, the Karnataka Government, assuming that the Supreme Court stay meant that the 1997 Act was valid, made some amendments to the Act. I will not go into the details of the amendments made since they are not directly related to the subject matter of this post. However, it is interesting to note that the 2012 amendment reversed some changes introduced in the 2011 amendment.
In the year 2015, based on a petition by 64 temples, the Karnataka High Court passed a judgement declaring the 2011 and 2012 Amendment Acts also to be illegal. This judgement was again taken to the Supreme Court vide SLP (Civil) 6834-6959/2016 and is currently being heard. However, the Supreme Court, in this issue too, stayed the judgement of the Karnataka High Court.
In summary, the Karnataka High Court has quashed the 1997, 2011 and 2012 HR & CE Acts of the Government of Karnataka and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court currently with all judgements of the High Court being stayed.
Let us assume therefore that the HR & CE Act, along with the amendments, is actually valid at this point in time.
The Janardhana and Mahakali Temple Case
In the year 2004, the management of the Janardhana and Mahakali Temple in Ambalpadi, Udupi went to the Karnataka High Court challenging an order of the Muzrai Deparment. The facts of the case and the judgement are briefly as follows
- The Ambalpadi temple, following the HR & CE Act procedure, used to donate funds to other needy temples and charitable organisations after obtaining the permission of the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the Karnataka HR & CE deparment.
- The DC also used to regularly allow the temple to make such contributions via written permission.
- On 11-02-2004, the DC sent a communication to the temple asking it to stop all such contributions claiming it is not allowed as per the “new” Act.
- The single judge bench, after hearing the petitioners, and going through the previous written permissions of the DC, passed a judgement allowing the continuation of such contributions.
The Janardhana and Mahakali Temple Case – Appeal
The Government of Karnataka, via the HR & CE department, chose to appeal this single-judge-bench decision via a Writ Appeal in the Karnataka High Court (WA 5012/2004). This matter was heard by a two-judge bench which upheld the decision of the single-judge-bench and passed a judgement to this effect in 2005.
In upholding the impugned judgement, the bench made some specific observations which are extremely relevant in the context of the recent controversy in Karnataka where 2 schools run by Sri Kalladka Prabhakara Bhat in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka have been denied funds from the Sri Kollur Mookambika Temple by the Government of Karnataka.
I reproduce relevant extracts of the judgement below
“It cannot be disputed that the respondent-temple is a religious institution and the money received by the respondent-temple is from the devotees who are religious. Therefore, when the funds are collected by the temple from the members of public, it is just and proper to permit the temple to utilise the same for the good of the public, namely, for charitable purposes like financing for maintenance or development or establishment of a hospital or establishment of educational institutions of charitable nature and which are not in commercial nature; or financing for mid-day meal provided to children in educational institutions”
“If the object of disbursement of funds is for charitable or religious purposes and if such fund is disbursed within reasonable limits, keeping in mind the total funds available in the respondent-temple, normally the authorities cannot refuse to accord permission for the request made by the respondent-temple”
One can see that the honourable High Court has upheld the contributions of the temple without even going into the technical details of what the HR & CE Act states on such transfers. Further, the judgement imposes no condition with regard to the charitable institutions and purpose being in any way connected to the temple that wants to contribute.
The HR & CE Act provisions
The Karnataka HR & CE Act provides for the creation of a “Common Pool Fund” by the DC which will be sourced from
“Section 17 contributions made by the Notified Institutions at five percentum of their gross annual income arrived at after deducting the following…..”
Now, Section 19 of the same Act deals with the Administration of the Common Pool Fund, created as above, and it says the following in one of the clauses
“Section 19(1) The Commissioner shall administer the Common Pool Fund subject to the conditions herein stated and for the following purposes, namely…”
“Section 19(1) (f) the establishment and maintenance of educational institutions where instructions in the Hindu religion is also provided”
“Section 19(1) (l) any other charitable or Hindu Religious purpose”
From the above, it is quite clear that the HR & CE, *in principal* is perfectly ok with excess funds from temples being used for maintenance of schools, and any other general Hindu charitable organisational purposes.
This intent of the Act, combined with the explicit directions from the Karnataka High Court, makes it obvious that usage of temple funds for funding mid-day meals, books and uniforms of kids in schools is perfectly legal and MUST BE ALLOWED.