Telangana

An arrest and a donation

Print edition : March 31, 2017

Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Photo: M. MURALI

M. Kodandaram, chairman of the T-JAC. Photo: Nagara Gopal

AT 3 a.m. on February 22, the police arrested Muddasani Kodandaram, a professor in political science at Osmania University, breaking down the front door of his house in Hyderabad. Also chairman of the Telangana Political Joint Action Committee (T-JAC), the nerve centre of the multiparty separate statehood movement, Kodandaram had marched shoulder to shoulder with Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao in Hyderabad for five years before India’s youngest State was born on June 2, 2014.

On the day of the arrest, the Chief Minister was at the Venkateswara temple in Tirumala, along with his family members, among them Cabinet colleagues, to offer to the deity gold jewellery valued at Rs.5 crore. The ornaments were made to order and paid for from the State’s Endowments Department’s Common Goods Fund (CGF). The offering was seemingly an acknowledgement of the divine help in realising the dream of a separate State.

While Kodandaram’s arrest represents a deeper malaise gripping the Telangana Rashtra Samiti-led government, the donation to the temple smacked of impropriety, as it amounted to a personal offering funded with the State’s temple revenues, which are supported with grants from the public exchequer.

The CGF is formed with 5 per cent of the monies collected from temples across the State that receive over Rs.50,000 annually as donations. The CGF, created under the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987, now applies to both States and has the mandate to “renovate, preserve and maintain” Hindu religious institutions which are in needy circumstances and to propagate the Hindu faith through activities such as the running of ved pathshalas, or religious seminaries.

A committee constituted by the government administers the CGF, but even if it had approved the donation of Rs.5 crore to the Tirumala temple, the law does not allow for it to be converted into gold jewellery.

After the creation of Telangana State, the major chunk of temple monies went to Andhra Pradesh, where there are 115 temples that receive Rs.25 lakh and above in annual donations as against 21 in Telangana. Data provided just ahead of the 2017-18 budgets of the two States show that Telangana has 12,302 temples. Of them, 34 have annual incomes of Rs.1 crore and above; 21 between Rs.25 lakh and Rs.1 crore; 318 between Rs.2 lakh and Rs.25 lakh; and 157 between Rs.50,000 and Rs.2 lakh. This brings the number of temples receiving over Rs.50,000 in the entire State to only 530.

Compare this with the 7 per cent that the Andhra Pradesh CGF receives from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Trust alone, which generates an annual income of over Rs.2,000 crore.

Telangana’s CGF receipts from temples average Rs.10 crore annually. For the financial year 2016-17, the government allocated an extra Rs.50 crore from the State’s receipts “in view of the precarious situation of the CGF”, as services like “Dhoopa, Deepa, Neivedyam” alone would require Rs.12 crore. The Endowments Department has sought an increase of this allocation to Rs.68 crore in the next budget. In other words, the donation to the Tirumala temple was paid for from the public exchequer at the expense of neglected or dilapidated temples within Telangana.

The argument that this is an inconsequential amount in a State with a budget of over Rs.1,30,000 crore must be weighed against the fact that there have been several such instances in the past three years, and the cumulative effect is significant.

On October 9 last year, the Chief Minister “donated” a crown made of gold weighing 11 kilogram to the Bhadrakali temple of Warangal and 700 gram of gold coins, totally worth Rs.3.7 crore. And days after his Tirumala donation, KCR and his family visited the Kuravi Veerabhadra Swamy temple in Mahbubnagar district to donate a moustache made of gold to the deity there.

KCR supporters point to his secular credentials by referring to the sanctioning of Rs.10 crore through the State’s wakf board funds for the construction of an auditorium at the Jamia Nizamia, one of India’s oldest Islamic seminaries, for Sunnis in Hyderabad, and the grant of Rs.5 crore to construct a building to house Telangana’s pilgrims at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan. The wakf board also receives grants-in-aid as its annual income of around Rs.10 crore falls far short of what is required to maintain wakf-administered properties.

On the same day as the Chief Minister’s temple donation, Kodandaram was to lead a protest in Hyderabad demanding that Chandrasekhar Rao deliver on the one lakh government jobs he promised a year ago in the Assembly. The police detained thousands of people in an effort to thwart the protest. The intention clearly was to undermine the credibility of the anti-Telangana Rashtra Samiti movement.

Kunal Shankar

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