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Opposition defeats Karnataka Bill to 'tax' rich Hindu temples

The BJP has been accusing the Congress government of being "anti-Hindu" over the Bill.
Last Updated 23 February 2024, 17:20 IST

Bengaluru: The Congress government's Bill to take a portion of revenue from rich Hindu temples for a common pool of funds was defeated by the Opposition BJP and JD(S) in the Legislative Council on Friday.

The Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Assembly on Wednesday.

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The BJP has been accusing the Congress government of being "anti-Hindu" over the Bill.

The Bill was defeated in a voice vote. There were 18 Opposition members who said 'nay' against only seven ruling Congress MLCs.

According to the Bill, 10 per cent of the gross income of temples whose gross annual income exceeds Rs 1 crore will be put in the common pool. Also, 5 per cent of the gross income in respect of institutions whose gross annual income exceeds Rs 10 lakh, but is less than Rs 1 crore, will be used for the pool.

At present, 10 per cent net income of temples with a gross annual income of more than Rs 10 lakh and 5 per cent from temples earning Rs 5-10 lakh are used for the pool.

The common pool, administered by the Rajya Dharmika Parishat, will be used for a number of purposes.

The Bill also sought the creation of state-level and district-level committees to "scrutinize, review and submit" proposals on infrastructure development for pilgrims.

The Opposition's main objection was on the "diversion" of income earned by temples. Muzrai Minister Ramalinga Reddy tried convincing them that the Bill was to provide social security to priests.

"I welcome the measure of providing social security to 40,000 archakas, but I oppose the diversion of temple income," Leader of the Opposition in the Council Kota Srinivas Poojary, a former Muzrai minister, said. "Why can't the government provide funds in the budget for the welfare of archakas?" he said.

Poojary also objected to the government picking presidents of temple management committees.

Reddy requested the Opposition lawmakers to "read and understand" the amendments. He assured the House that the government would not interfere in the nomination of committee presidents. He also said the amount proposed to be taken for the common pool would be reduced.

"The intention is to take funds from high-income temples for the common pool and use it for the welfare of archakas at 'C' category temples, education of their children, housing and health benefits," Reddy explained. He even pointed out that this was nothing new and it was similar to an amendment proposed when the BJP was in power in 2011. Apparently, back then, the Congress had defeated the amendments by one vote.

After much debate, the Opposition agreed to pass the Bill if the changes suggested were incorporated. However, Reddy sought time till Monday to discuss with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah as it had financial implications.

Council Deputy Chairperson MK Pranesh, who was presiding over the session, declined to give time till Monday. He put the Bill for voting, and it was defeated. This was followed by BJP lawmakers chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'.

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(Published 23 February 2024, 17:20 IST)

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