So-called secular Indian state controls temples, not churches and mosques – Swaminathan Venkataraman

Gangaikonda Cholapuram Shiva Temple

Swaminathan VenkataramanRich temples such as Tirupati, Guruvayoor, or Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple have routinely been raided to fund state budget programmes or line politicians’ pockets, while what happens in Tamil Nadu can only be described as wholesale loot. – Swaminathan Venkataraman

In April 2016, more than a 1,000-year-old temple, built by Rajendra Chola I in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, was pulled down by the state government in the name of renovation. The government said the temple was only “dismantled” and would be put together again. In May 2010, the temple tower of the famous 500-year-old Kalahasti Temple in Andhra Pradesh, built by King Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara, collapsed. A UNESCO report released in August 2017 raised alarm that the Tamil Nadu government, which manages more than 36,000 temples, neither had the capacity nor qualified experts to carry out conservation work, leading to the “massacre” of ancient temples. These magnificent temples would be national treasures in any other country, and protected with great care. Tamil Nadu’s temples are indeed known globally, but the sheer scale of the treasure is unappreciated (dozens or hundreds of temples are over 1,000 years old) and numerous gems languish in obscurity, crumbling away for lack of care.

Foxes guarding the hen-house

This sorry state of affairs is the direct result of temples being managed by callous and corrupt state governments. Several Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) acts have allowed states to assume financial and managerial control of more than a hundred thousand Hindu temples. These HRCE departments are headed either by a cabinet minister or by ostensibly autonomous boards. According to a Supreme Court judgement, governments are free to appoint Marxists and non-believers to manage these departments.

During deliberations that preceded the passage of the landmark Madras HRCE Act of 1951, the premier of Madras, O. P. Ramaswamy Reddiar, assured the House of his government’s intention: “In bringing forward this Bill sir, let me make it clear that I have the highest interest of our faith at heart…. The regulation of Hindu temples and maths is regulation of the community’s life and conduct; the revival of our temples is the revival of our people…. If we do not make our temples a positive force, radiating a healthy progressive, social and cultural outlook, we shall be playing into the hands of the surging Godless crowd….”

How ironic then that temples are managed by Marxists in Kerala, atheist Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, or Christians such as Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, who tried to build a church right on top of Tirumala. They have wreaked havoc on the financial sustainability of temples, although ostensibly practising Hindu politicians are also culpable. Virtually all of Reddiar’s stated intentions stand belied or worse. T. S. S. Rajan, who introduced the bill in 1949, said, “Ours maybe called a secular government, and so it is. But it does not absolve us from protecting the funds of the institutions which are meant for the service of the people.”

This has been the pre-eminent rationale to justify government management of Hindu temples. In reality, state after state has used the precedent of Tamil Nadu to pass HRCE acts, seeing temple funds as cookie jars they can raid for all and sundry purposes. Mismanagement extends to all aspects of temple administration, and borders on the criminal.

Rich temples such as Tirupati, Guruvayoor, or Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple have routinely been raided to fund state budget programmes or line politicians’ pockets, while what happens in Tamil Nadu can only be described as wholesale loot. The HRCE Department controls more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban land. The government, however, collects a mere Rs 36 crore in rent, while any reasonable measure will run into thousands of crores.

Financial mismanagement is compounded by gross incompetence when it comes to temple maintenance. There are numerous instances where ancient murals and paintings were white-washed, mandapams were demolished and walls sand-blasted causing precious inscriptions to disappear. While the government eventually issues notifications acknowledging the errors of such senseless acts, the damage is already been done, and new forms of egregious violations occur at other temples. There are long running rackets in the smuggling of exquisite ancient sculptures abroad and while there have been some notable successes in recapturing artifacts recently, they remain the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, the initiative and intelligence for these successes come from private efforts, like the one initiated by the India Pride Project.

Such a loot has been the inevitable outcome since modern bureaucratic control of temples commenced during the British rule. The first Collector of Chengalpattu, Lionel Place, noted in his “report on the jagir” of 1799 that, soon after he became the collector, he took over the “management of the funds of all the celebrated pagodas” into his own hands and allocated expenses for their festivals and maintenance. By 1801, these were converted to “fixed money allowances” under a “permanent settlement”.

An article on the Tirupati temple by the collector of North Arcot in the Asiatic Journal in 1831, is even more explicit: “It was a strange but determined piece of policy when throughout the country the pagoda lands were resumed by the company and tusdeck allowances were granted in their place…. Now let us contemplate the result of this plan. From one end of the country to the other, the pagodas are ruined, unmaintained…. The revenues of Tripetty are on a gradual decline and will die in the lapse of years a natural death. Some of the most celebrated temples in the country are worse off. But there are still, alas, many more strongholds of the devil.”

Legal apartheid against Hindus

These acts of what can only be called “state-sanctioned violence” acquire the colours of apartheid when compared with the rights of other religions in independent India. One of the great ironies of Indian secularism is that a vocally secular government sees no contradiction in managing Hindu temples—and only Hindu temples. The dramatically different legal, nay constitutional, position of the Hindus vis-a-vis other religions is best understood with reference to a few key provisions of the Indian Constitution, summarised below:

Article 14 — Equality Before Law

The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

Article 15 — Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place of Birth

Article 25 — Freedom of Religion

(1) Subject to public order, morality and health … all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion;

(2)(a) Nothing in this article shall … prevent the State from making any law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.

Article 26 — Freedom to Manage Religious Affairs

Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;

(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion;

(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and

(d) to administer such property in accordance with law.

Article 29 — Protection of Interests of Minorities

(1) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India … having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.

Article 30 — Right of Minorities to Establish and Administer Educational Institutions

(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

The Indian Constitution confers extraordinary protections on minorities. But crucially, the equality promised under Articles 14 and 15 and the freedom to manage religious affairs under Articles 25(1) and 26 are abrogated for Hindus, and Hindus alone, in the matter of their temples by recourse to Article 25(2)(a). By considering temple finances a secular matter, the tentacles of the state are now deeply entrenched into purely religious matters such as conduct of puja and other rituals.

Articles 29 and 30 together constitute yet another assault on the Hindu community and its unity. The right to manage institutions conferred by Article 30 ought to be a natural right for all communities. But Hindus alone have been denied this privilege. Article 29 virtually guarantees that Hindus will splinter into smaller groups that can claim minority status on the basis of language or culture, thereby securing immunity from the depredations of the state. Groups such as the Ramakrishna Mission, and now Lingayats, have claimed/are claiming minority status for this reason, as are many private educational institutions run by Hindus. As far back as 1927, the passage of the Hindu Religious Endowments Bill caused communities in Canara and Malabar to claim to be “separate and independent communities”. This harms the unity and integrity of India by encouraging more groups to separate as distinct entities, not because they have seen themselves as such historically but simply for constitutional convenience.

This also severely hampers the Hindu community’s ability to respond to the menace of religious conversions. Hindus are routinely accused of not performing adequate social service for the poor, unlike Christian missionaries. But how could they, when the government usurps temple funds and interferes in educational and other institutions?

By contrast, churches are completely free from interference and run schools and hospitals on a for-profit basis that fund conversion efforts. A comparison of the legal rights of various religions in India today is shown in the table below. Such institutionalised discrimination against an ostensible 80 per cent majority community is without parallel anywhere in the world.

Hindus have a right to manage their temples

The near total ignorance and indifference among the educated elite of India about how temples are managed is only now beginning to change, with the growth of a right of centre media ecosystem. But granting Hindus the right to manage their temples should not be a partisan issue. On the one hand, politicians of all hues have been guilty of misappropriating temple funds. On the other, intellectuals on the Left have opined just as much against state interference in temples.

Hinduism has a millennia-old history of local management of temple affairs. An inscription at the Tirupati temple from 1390 CE indicates the composition of the local management committee, while describing the share (nirvaham) of the prasadams to be given to the members:

• Four nirvaham for the Tirupati Srivaishnavas (local devotees)

• Three nirvaham for the sabhaiyar of Thirucchanur (local lawmakers)

• One nirvaham for the nambimar (priests of the temple)

• Two nirvahams for the kovil kelkum jiyars (Vaishnava religious heads)

• Two nirvaham for the kovil kanakku (accountants)

This is a structure that can easily be adapted to modern needs. There are legitimate questions about how temples would be managed and how corruption can be avoided, but no one questions the right or ability of minorities to manage their places of worship.

Claiming that the government must manage temples makes the implicitly bigoted assumption that Hindus alone are incapable of managing their temples. – Swarajya, 6 November 2017

» This article is part of Swarajya Heritage Program. If you liked this article and would like Swarajya to do more such ones consider being a sponsor—you can contribute as little as Rs 2,999. Read more here.

 
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Freeing temples from state control – Subramanian Swamy

Srirangam Temple Gopuram

Subramanian SwamyWhat is scandalous is the corruption after the takeover of temples as politicians and officials loot the temple’s wealth and land, and divert donations of devotees to non-religious purposes. – Dr Subramanian Swamy

The Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on January 6, 2013, allowing my Special Leave Petition that sought the quashing of the Tamil Nadu Government’s G.O. of 2006 which had mandated the government takeover of the hallowed Sri Sabhanayagar Temple (popularly known as the Nataraja Temple).

The Madras High Court Single Judge and Division Bench had in 2009 upheld the constitutionality of the G.O. by a tortuous and convoluted logic that new laws can overturn past court judgments that had attained finality earlier. The Supreme Court in 1953 had dismissed the then Madras Government’s SLP seeking the quashing of a Madras High Court Division Bench judgment of 1952 that had upheld the right of Podu Dikshitars to administer the affairs of the Nataraja Temple while dismissing all charges of misappropriation of temple funds against the Dikshitars. The Supreme Court thus made this judgment final and hence that which cannot be re-opened. But in 2009 the Madras High Court did precisely that. In 2014, in my SLP, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde therefore termed this re-opening of the matter as “judicial indiscipline” and set aside the 2009 Madras High Court judgment as null and void on the principle of res judicata.

In their lengthy judgment, the Bench has clearly set the constitutional parameters on the scope of governmental intervention in the management of religious institutions. In particular, the Court has opined that any G.O. that legally mandates a takeover of a temple must be for a fixed limited period, which I had suggested as three years.

The Dravidian movement intellectuals and politicians in various parties in Tamil Nadu are incensed with the judgment. The recent article “Reforms in the House of God” (A. Srivathsan in The Hindu January 13, 2013) is one such example that laments the Supreme Court judgment.

In this Dravidian movement background, it is not difficult to understand the views of those who believe that Hindu temples ought to be managed by the government, and that any deviation is a social, ethical, moral and legal sacrilege! In Mr. Srivathsan’s article it is stated that: “For almost a century, the Tamil Nadu government has been trying to bring the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple or the Sabanayagar Temple as it is officially known, under state administration”. This is one expression of the outlook that only Hindu religious affairs need to be managed by the government. The obvious question, why should a “secular, socialist” government control only Hindu places of worship, but not Muslim and Christian religious institutions clearly has been avoided.

But the country has moved on after the phase of British imperialist grip on Tamil Nadu during which phase the Dravidian Movement was founded. Prominent leaders of this Movement had declared that “blowing up of the Nataraja Temple by a cannon is the goal of the Dravidian Movement”. Unfortunately for them, in the last two decades, the rising popularity of the Hindu religion among the youth, and the debilitating corruption in financial affairs of the Dravidian movement have made such a violent aim unattainable. But the biggest roadblock is the Constitution of India.

In fact, what is scandalous is the corruption after takeover of temples by the Tamil Nadu officials, MLAs and Ministers by looting the temple wealth, lands, and jewels, and the reckless diversion of donations of devotees to non-religious purposes.

For example, temple properties: Tamil Nadu temples, under Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department, has control over more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples. By any reasonable measure, the income from these properties should be in thousand of crores of rupees. The government, however, collects a mere Rs. 36 crore in rent against a “demand” of mere Rs. 304 crore—around 12 per cent realisation. How much is under the table only a court-monitored inquiry can reveal. In any corporate or well-managed organisation with accountability, those responsible would have been sacked. Yet, we have people rooting for “government administration”.

Temples themselves: The Srirangam Ranganathar Temple paid the government a (yearly) fee of Rs. 18.56 crore (2010-11) for “administering the temple”; for employees rendering religious services, like reciting Vedas, pasurams during the deity procession, no salary is paid. There are 36 priests in Srirangam who perform the daily pujas—they are not paid a monthly fixed salary. They are entitled to offerings made by devotees and a share in the sale of archana tickets. Yet the temple pays a monthly salary ranging from Rs.8,000 to Rs.20,000 for the temple’s government-appointed employees, like watchman, car drivers etc. who perform no religious duties.

The situation is “significantly” better at the famous Nelliappar Temple in Tirunelveli. In this temple, priests performing daily pujas are paid monthly salaries, but ranging from Rs. 55 to Rs. 72 (and this is during 2010-11). But did some politician not say you can have a hearty meal for Rs. 5 per day? But it is just Rs. 1.65 per day, going by the standards of the “secular” government.

Many large temples maintain a fleet of luxury vehicles, typically the “fully loaded Toyota Innova”, for the use of VIPs! And for the use of assorted Joint and Additional Commissioners and, of course, the Commissioner himself. It is very difficult to understand the religious purpose such extravagance serves or even a ‘secular’ purpose! The HR & CE Dept takes away annually around Rs. 89 crore from the temples as administrative fee. The expenditure of the department including salaries is only Rs. 49 crore. Why does the government overcharge the temples—literally scourging the deities—for a sub standard service?

Temple antiquity: The third “contribution” of the government is the mindless destruction of priceless architectural heritage of our temples.

There are several instances of sand blasting of temple walls resulting in loss of historical inscriptions; wholesale demolition of temple structures and their replacement by concrete monstrosities; in a temple in Nasiyanur near Salem, an entire temple mandapam disappeared, leaving behind a deep hole in the ground, literally.

Recently the government started covering the floor of Tiruvotriyur Thyagaraja Temple with marble, a stone never used in south Indian temples. The original floor was of ancient granite slabs with historical inscriptions. There are several initiatives for “renovation” of temples—the bureaucrats rarely consult archaeologists or heritage experts. Without knowledge, experience, competence or appreciation and with great insensitivity they use inappropriate chemicals on ancient murals, insert concrete/cement structures, use ceramic tiles to “embellish” sanctum sanctorum and construct “offices” within temple premises. Ancient monuments 300 to 1000 plus years old are never “renovated”, only “restored”, a distinction that escapes the babus.

More importantly, the Supreme Court, in the 2014 Chidambaram case has held that the government cannot arbitrarily take over temples, which is what has been happening in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian movement’s influence.

In the case of Trusts and Societies, takeover of temples can happen, the Supreme Court held, only on establishing a clear case of mal-administration and that too the takeover can be for a limited period, and the management of the temple will have to be handed back immediately after the “evil has been remedied”.

There are several large temples in Tamil Nadu under government control for several decades. If the Supreme Court judgment is applied, then the government is in illegal, unethical and unfair control of these temples. apart from being answerable for innumerable acts of dereliction of duty, defiling of temples that has resulted in loss of several thousands of crores of rupees to the temples and to their antiquity. That is my next move—to liberate all Hindu temples presently in government control on expired GOs. In the future we need to bring some mosques and churches to rectify the mismanagement going on in these places. Then the secularism of India’s intellectuals will be truly tested. – The Hindu, 12 September 2016

Chidambaram Nataraja Temple

Whether UPA or NDA, discrimination against Hindus and Hindu temples continues – Kanimozhi

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Gopuram

Lady ReporterWhy should government control Hindu temples, while churches and mosques are given a free hand? Why is the government spending, tax-payers’ money towards churches and masjids, while diverting most of the money collected from temples into non-temple, non-Hindu activities? – Kanimozhi

There are as many as 2,07,000 temples in Karnataka and the total income of these temples amounts to Rs 72 crore. Only a sum of Rs. 6 crore is being spent by the Government for their upkeep. On the other hand, the Government spent a phenomenal amount of Rs. 50 crore for the madrasas and Rs. 10 crore for the churches,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said in 2003.

That was when S. M. Krishna of Congress was the chief minister of Karnataka. In the last 13 years, while the income from the temples has doubled, and the amount spent towards madrasas and churches has also doubled, the amount spent on the upkeep of the temples has remained the same. During these 13 years, Janata Dal (S) and the BJP were in power between 2006 and 2013 and the Congress is in power since then, but the condition of temples continues to remain pitiful.

Here are some key-facts from a 2003 article by Anjali Patel, which are dated but still relevant today:

  • 70% (Rs. 50 crores) of Hindu temples’ money is diverted for Muslim madarasas and haj by Indian Government.
  • 5,000 temples in Karnataka were to be closed down due to lack of funding and maintenance.
  • During Kumbh Mela in Nasik, each Hindu devotee was forced to pay Rs. 25 to Rs. 50 for a dip in the holy water. Congress, BJP and Shiv Sena said nothing about this (while giving money to Muslims and Christians).
  • If a Hindu or a Sikh wishes to visit holy places in Kailash Mansarovar or Gurudwara in Pakistan, leave alone subsidy, they are forced to shell out large amounts of money to visit their holy places, while Muslims enjoy massive 70% subsidy for their visit to haj in Saudi Arabia, which is paid from the pockets of taxpaying Hindus. The gross income of TTD for the year (2014-15) is estimated to be Rs. 2359.2 crores ($385.33 mn)

The issue here is not just about the government misusing the funds collected from the temples, or taxpayers’ money being spent on subsidizing religious travel of a particular community, the issue is much beyond that.

But, let us first understand the difference between Hindu temples and the places of worship belonging to other religions.

Dr. Subramanian SwamyAccording to Dr. Subramanian Swamy, as he explains very clearly in this video (see below), the temples are the places of inhabitance of our Gods, and not simply a place to offer prayers. The construction of a temple and the subsequent installation of the idol involves processes called prana pratishta, by which the very presence of Gods are established within the premises of the temples and thus, the temples become the abode of the Gods. On the other hand, a mosque or a church, is simply a place to offer namaz or prayers, respectively, and they have no conception of these places as being the very abode of God.

Most Hindu temples have a rich story to tell and during ancient times they were also utilized as places of learning. But, today, it is disheartening to see, how temples have transformed from being places of learning to being commercial complexes, from which government is pocketing crores of rupees as income every year. The ground situation for adherents of Hinduism has become critical over the last seven decades, mainly due to political interference and politics of discrimination and appeasement. Though, India got independence in 1947, and the constitution guarantees Right to Religion, it appears that the implementation has catered to the needs of all communities, except the Hindus. This is especially troubling, since India is a Hindu-majority nation.

The successive governments and political masters, need to answer why this discrimination against Hindus? Why should government control Hindu temples, while churches and mosques are given a free hand? Why is the government spending, tax-payers’ money towards churches and masjids, while diverting most of the money collected from temples into non-temple, non-Hindu activities?

If only the Hindu community is given back the control of the temples and their activities, then the money collected from the temples could be utilized for so many community oriented, religious, cultural, and educational activities.

Hindu temples are not the sacred places that they should be, because, they are not under the control of Hindu community. The income from most of the Hindu Temples, the offerings by the devotees, etc. goes to the government treasury and become government revenue and hence, the Hindu community has no say as to how the temple money is utilized. Prior to 1925, the Sikh Gurdwaras were in control of Udasi mahants, who were largely perceived as corrupt and degenerate from the mainline Sikhs. The Sikhs fought hard and forced the British to pass a law, which brought the administration of Gurdwaras under the control of an elected body of the Sikh people. That law is the Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925. That law has worked exceptionally well and has satisfied the Sikhs’ desire of being in control of their Gurdwaras and overseeing them as per the group’s mandate. This is one of the best examples that Hindus can emulate.

Sri Siddhivinayak TempleTemple statistics

The government takeover of temples has resulted in several state governments running full-length ministries for the management of various activities of those temples. The erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government, for instance, employed 77,000 people to ensure “smooth conducting of pujas” in its 33,000 temples. Similar numbers could be found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. Ministries for management of temples are present in some north Indian temples as well. This is one of the immense incongruities of Indian secularism is that a vocally non-religious government sees no contradiction in overseeing Hindu sanctuaries, and just Hindu temples.

Such systematized oppression and discrimination against the majority community, which constitute around 80% of the population of the country, is without parallel on the entire planet. Some Hindu sampradayas, for example, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission have even attempted to claim “minority” status so as to preserve their institutions from government interference. This continuing grip of the government over administration of Hindu sanctuaries is not only an infringement of the religious rights of the Hindus, but has also resulted in massive corruption and abuse of assets. Add to this, the government’s apathy and utter disregard towards the sacredness and sanctity of the temples.Add to this, the utter disregard and contempt shown towards the sacredness and sanctity of the temples.

In 1980s, the then Kerala chief minister K. Karunakaran had ordered the Guruvayur Temple to transfer 10 crore rupees from its bank account to the state treasury to offset financial deficit. Whether the amount was ever returned or not is doubtful. What’s more, the temple’s property was reduced from 13000 acres of land to a meagre 230 acres of land by the Land Reforms Act (pdf), which helpfully avoided non-Hindu foundations. In 2004, the Maharashtra government admitted to diverting US$ 190,000 from Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple to a charity run by a politician, in the Bombay High Court. In Tamil Nadu, the HR&CE Department controls more than 4.7 lakh acres of land of horticultural area, 2.6 crore square feet of structures and 29 crore square feet of urban place that is known for temples. The earning from these properties must be at least few thousand crore rupees, yet the government collects a meagre Rs 36 crore in rent. This is a classic case of corruption and underhanded dealings.

Politically influential people have shamelessly appropriated temple property for individual use. A friend of mine narrates how a representative from the Tamil Nadu HR&CE Department would arrive at one of the small temples in the state to collect the money deposited in the temple hundi and would pocket a part of it for his personal use. Petty corruption, underhanded dealings, and misuse of temple assets are rampant in the government administration of the temples.

Ram Lalla VirajmanAyodhya, Will a temple be built there ever?

Ayodhya is among the most sacred places for Hindus across the country. According to Hindu Itihasa (history) texts, Lord Rama was born, brought up, and ruled from Ayodhya. But, for the last many decades Ram Janmabhumi has been in the middle of political dispute. The dispute traces its origin to the destruction of the Hindu temple in Ayodhya and construction of a mosque in its place during the reign of Babar of Moghul dynasty in the 16th century. The recent excavations in the area have also confirmed the presence of a Hindu temple beneath the demolished Babri mosque. Yet, a new temple for Lord Ram is yet to see the light. Though, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has expressed a certainty that such a temple will be built soon, it remains to be seen how much of his assertion will materialize on the ground.

Conclusion

It is high time that Hindus realize that their government is discriminating against them in the name of secularism. Income from Hindu temples should be spent on those very temples and on activities that enrich Hindu community and propagate Hindu religion. For this, it is vital that temples are freed from government control and are instead managed by the community. Hopefully, the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear today, the petition of late Swami Dayananda Saraswati to free temples from government control, will be able to address these genuine concerns of the Hindu community. IndiaFacts, 13 July 2016

» Kanimozhi is a NRI living in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She is an engineering electro-mechanical consultant and the founder of the Kurukshetra2019.com web portal. 

Venkateshwara Temple Tirumala

Exposing the idiots and traitors among public servants – P. M. Ravindran

Major P.M. RavindranThis is the 1st of a series of exposures being brought to you by Veteran Major P M Ravindran, Kalpathy who can be contacted at raviforjustice@gmail.com. 

The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTIA) is the only pro-democracy and citizen-friendly law in the country as on date. But the way it has been subverted blatantly and with impunity by the public servants of every hue, paints a very bleak and horrifying picture for posterity. For those who still believe in the rule of law and would like to perform the role of responsible citizens the only option now seems to be to use this law to expose the idiots and traitors among those who are euphemistically referred to as public servants. Idiots, to my mind, are those who expose their ignorance of their job of which the knowledge of the RTIA is an important one especially for the heads of the public authorities as defined in the RTIA and the public information officers (PIOs) and first appellate authorities (FAAs) designated by them. Traitors are those who by the very nature of the offices they hold and the drain they cause to the public exchequer cannot be considered to be idiots but prove incompetent or indifferent in discharging their responsibilities. In the matter of RTIA the task of the head of any public authority would be as simple as designating the right people as PIOs and FAAs. The task of the PIOs is itself as simple as providing available information or routing the application to those who are most likely to hold it. The task of the FAA is also as simple as ensuring that deficiencies, if any, in the task performed by the PIO is corrected before the matter goes to the information commissioners who are bound to punish the PIOs for such deficiencies.  This citizen friendly law also provides for assistant public information officers (APIOs) to be designated by certain public authorities to just help citizens by collecting applications, fees, 1st appeals and 2nd appeals and forwarding them to the concerned public servants. While this is explicitly stated in Sec 5 of the RTIA, it has to be accepted in the spirit of the law that the collection of cost demanded by the PIOs also should be collected by the APIOs and forwarded to them. Suffice to say that the violation of law by public servants stands exposed as starkly as can be expected, through the RTIA. It is to be reiterated that it is not only information that have been brought into public domain by this law but more viciously, arbitrarily and illegally held back/denied that puts this law on the pedestal or makes it the whetstone for differentiating the idiots and traitors among and from the public servants. Yes, there have to be some who are still worthy of being endearingly called public servants but as far as my experience goes it seems to be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack!

The revenue department is acknowledged as one of the most corrupt departments of the government. The harassment that a citizen has to suffer even at the Village Office level can be considered to be the substance of which horror stories can be made! Carrying on the legacy of colonial times a public servant responsible for the management of revenue services continues to be the head of administration of districts! So let us begin our exposures of idiots and traitors amoung public servants from the public authority that is the office of a District Collector.

The following two cases should help the reader to slot the head and the PIOs/FAAs in the office of the District Collector, Palakkad.

Case 1: Here is one complaint I had submitted to the District Collector on 5/11/2013 and the responses received

COMPLAINT: NON-COMPLAINCE OF SEC 5 OF THE RTI ACT AND DENIAL OF LAWFULLY ENTITLED SERVICES

1. Please refer Sec 5 of the Right to Information Act and Government of Kerala orders on issuing receipt to citizens

2. On 04 Nov 2013 I had approached the Tapal Sec of the O/o The DC, Palakkad to hand over the 2nd appeal under the RTI Act in the matter of Palakkad Indoor Stadium Society and some touch screen/info kiosks installed in the Collectorate. However, I was told that it has to be sent directly. But when asked to give it in writing I was told that there was a letter directing that when applicants/ appellants know the address where the application/appeal has to be sent to he has to send it directly. But since the clerk handling the file was not available the appeal was accepted but a receipt was given only on my file copy of the appeal. This is also against the orders on the subject.  In fact the Govt of Kerala order not only directs public servants to issue receipts but there is even a format prescribed for it. Also both the fact that receipts will be issued and the format is required to be displayed in all the public offices. This has also not been implemented even in the Collectorate.

3. You are requested to take cognisance of the willful non-compliance of law by public servants and take necessary deterrent action against the public servants and also take necessary steps to prevent recurrence of such incidences in future.

Before going to the reply received almost after 4 months this is what Sec 5(2) of the RTIA states as the duty of the APIO:

(2)   Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (1), every public authority shall designate an officer, within one hundred days of the enactment of this Act, at each sub-divisional level or other sub-district level as a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, to receive the applications for information or appeals under this Act for forwarding the same forthwith to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or senior officer specified under sub-section (1) of section 19 or the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be:

Provided that where an application for information or appeal is given to a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, a period of five days shall be added in computing the period for response specified under sub-section (1) of section 7.

This is also in consonance with the task of the APIO explained in para 5 of Govt of Kerala, Circular I, No 77000/Cdn5/06/GAD dated 30 Oct 2006.

And now read this para 13 of the DoPT OM No 1/8/2007-IR dated 8 Nov 2007:

On 7/3/2014 I received a letter, in Malayalam, signed by the Huzur Shiristadar (now, what’s that? Reminds you of colonial times? Never mind for now!) on behalf of the District Collector which when translated would read like this:

Subject: Complaint regarding RTIA, 2005

Reference: Your complaint dated 5/11/2013 (RTI/dc pkd-sec5-comp-13105)

A perusal of your complaint shows that you had given a petition addressed to the Hon’ble State Information Commission. You are required to submit petitions addressed to other offices directly to those offices. Complaints regarding RTIA should be submitted to the Hon’ble State Information Commission.

In fact even the District Collector, writing to the Secretary, State Information Commission, Kerala (vide his letter PGR3-2012/86164/9 dated 7/11/2012) had begun by stating as follows:

Applications and appeals related to information held with other public authorities received in this office are duly forwarded to those offices and intimated to the applicant.

Worse, even the Lower Division Clerk in the office of the District Collector on 12/10/12 while writing a noting had stated:

State Assistant Public Information Officer is to receive the RTI applications and appeals and forward the same to the concerned within 5 days.

The only grouse of this LDC, performing the duties of the APIO and Tapal (Dak) Clerk was that it burdens the Tapal Clerk who is handling about 300 documents per day and it causes unnecessary expenses to the Govt! (Apparently the clerk is under the impression that the only necessary expenses of the Govt are to pay them salaries and provide them perks!)

Case 2: on UID and computerisation of land records

Here is the info sought through an application dated 14/07/2011 submitted to the PIO, O/o the District Collector, Palakkad and the follow-up.

1. It has been reported in the media that activities in connection with UID (Adhaar) have commenced in the district. In this context please provide the following information:

1.1. What is the purpose of issuing this UID?

1.2. Is providing information voluntary or mandatory?

1.3. What will be the consequences if a citizen refuses to provide the data?

1.4. Who are the persons who are authorised to collect, compile, store and manage the data? Are they permanent government employees, casual employees or private agencies?  How is the cost being met?

1.5. What are the precautions taken to ensure the integrity and security of the data?

1.6. Is there any provision for compensating the citizen if s/he gets into problems due to misuse/abuse of the data by those handling it or due to their negligence?

2. Also, in the context of GO(RT) No 3737/97/RD dated 23 (or 25?) /10/1997 regarding computerisation of land records, please provide the following information:

2.1. What all actions have been taken by your office in respect of paras 3 and 8 of the order?

2.2. What is the status of computerisation of land records in the district? Provide data in the form: completely computerised-village offices, 25 pc completed-village offices, 50 pc completed-village offices and 75 pc completed-village offices.

2.3. If the computerisation is not complete, what all have been the impediments encountered?

On 16/7/11, the PIO wrote to me stating that the application has been forwarded to the District Project Office of Akshaya regarding UID.

On 12/8/11 another PIO in the same public authority (The office of the District Collector, Palakkad) wrote to me asking me to contact the various tehsildars for the information required!

There was no response from the District Project Office of Akshaya and since Sec 6(3) of the RTIA had not been complied with by the PIO regarding computerization of land records the matter went up on 2nd appeal. The 2nd appeal submitted to the Kerala State Information Commission (KSIC) on 11/10/2011 was disposed of on 02/03/2013. The only correct thing in this order was a direction to provide all available information about UID within 10 days of the order. However, on 21/11/2012, the PIO had provided copies of two letters on UID: one, a letter by the Cabinet Secretary to the State Chief Secretaries dated 4/4/2011 and two, a Kerala Govt Order dated 26/2/2011 whereby the District Collector had been designated as the Working Chairperson of the District UID Implementing and Monitoring Committee! (Please note that my application was submitted on 14/7/2011, almost 5 months after this GO had been issued!) On 21/03/2013, the PIO, District Project Office of Akshaya, also provided a copy of their letter dated 16/8/2011 addressed to the District Collector! (The point to note is that this PIO instead of writing to the applicant directly and endorsing a copy to the District Collector had replied to the District Collector only and worse, the District Collector had slept over it! Wonderful manner of implementation of the RTIA even after 6 years of it having come into force, isn’t it?) For the record, the then District Collector who had attended a hearing at the KSIC had shamelessly stated that the GOs had not been available with his office as on the date of receipt of the application! Now whether it is the GO of 1997 quoted in para 2 of the application or the GO of 26/2/2011 mentioned above is not clear. And worse, inspite of the PIO, District Project Office of Akshaya writing to the District Collector on 16/8/2011 itself, the KSIC order states that there had been no response from the PIO, District Project Office of Akshaya either to the applicant or the District Collector! – Raviforjustice Blog, 11 March 2014 

Israel hunts terrorists, India sets them free – Rajesh Singh

Rajesh Singh“Hate-India terrorists and rabble-rousers like Hafiz Saeed taunt us on a daily basis from across the Line of Control, and the country’s most wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim lives a lavish life in Pakistan and elsewhere without the slightest fear of being caught and made to pay a price. We can only seethe with impotent anger.” – Rajesh Singh

Priyanka + Nalini: After Priyanka's intervention, Nalini will never be executed!We should be shocked and outraged that the terrorists who killed a former Prime Minister and a Chief Minister and many innocent citizens have been allowed to escape the gallows. We have been witnessing an outpouring of compassion for these killers, with Governments taking their own time to Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalalandecide on their mercy pleas and thus providing them with an escape route; the courts using executive delays as a pretext to remit their death sentences; and politicians exploiting court verdicts to announce the release of the convicts. These are not signs of a country that claims to possess unflinching determination to fight terrorism.

Abu Salem : Started life as a taxi driver. He is now worth a billion dollars.To understand what it means to truly crack down on terrorists, on elements that threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the country, and on all those who collaborate in such nefarious designs, we need to look no further than Israel — a nation smaller in size and resources than India, and surrounded by more and better equipped hostile forces too. It has successfully fought multiple wars, with enemy forces at times stacked together. It has tracked its enemies on foreign soil and eventually eliminated them. No wonder, therefore, that Israel is admired, and feared as much as it is loathed by its foes in all parts of the globe.

Hafiz Muhammad SaeedBy contrast, hate-India terrorists and rabble-rousers like Hafiz Saeed taunt us on a daily basis from across the Line of Control, and the country’s most wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim lives a lavish life in Pakistan and elsewhere without the slightest fear of being caught and made to pay a price. We can only seethe with impotent anger.

To appreciate just to what extents Israel can go and has gone to punish its enemies, one needs to read authors Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal‘s riveting book, Mossad: The greatest missions of the Israeli secret service. The narrative will leave us wondering: Why is it that political courage and the almost manic will-power to bring to book perpetrators of crime against the nation thrive in Israel but are dead in India?

The long list of explanations that apologists will have on offer, ranging from the obvious to the abstract to finally the simplistic, ‘India is not Israel’, is meaningless. The bottom line remains unchanged, which is: We have failed to punish terror whereas Israel has succeeded.

Sanjay Dutt & Dawood IbrahimThe book has close to 20 high-profile cases that Mossad handled, some of which ended disastrously for the agency. From our perspective, a few of them stand out for the audacity of execution, the extraordinary intrepidity of the agents, the huge dangers involved in the operations and the unstinted political backing to them.

Can you imagine for a moment the Prime Minister of India walking into the country’s external intelligence agency’s office to listen to and approve of a plan to eliminate one of the most dreaded anti-India terrorists living abroad? The authors of Mossad begin the chapter, ‘The cameras were rolling’, with an account of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walking into a meeting of senior Mossad operatives including its head Meir Dagan, in early January 2010, and green-signalling the secret agency’s plan to assassinate key Hamas leader Mahmoud Abdel Rauf Al-Mahbouh in Dubai. The agents completed their task.

But perhaps among the most audacious exercise Mossad has undertaken, again with the full blessing and backing of the political establishment, was at Entebbe in Uganda. This is also among the most legendary of its operations. In June-end of 1976, Arab and German terrorists hijacked an Air France airliner on its way from Tel Aviv to Paris and landed it in Entebbe, in what was then the despotic Iddi Amin‘s Uganda. The terrorists held 95 Israeli civilians hostage. A week later, in the dead of night, four Israeli planes carrying commandos, undetected by Ugandan radar, landed at the Entebbe airport. One of the leaders of the groups which participated in the operation was Yoni Netanyahu, brother of future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He lost his life, but the commandos rescued the hostages and killed the terrorists.

Yasser ArafatEverybody has heard of the September 5, 1972, massacre of Israeli team members at the Munich Olympics. What is fascinating is the doggedness with which Mossad tracked down members of the terrorist organisation which went by the name of Black September, responsible for the attack. It was created, ironically, by a future Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yasser Arafat. The authors of the book have in their account titled, The quest for the Red Prince, narrated the determination of then Prime Minister Golda Meir to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime. She cleared Mossad’s proposal to unleash the agency’s operatives to hunt down every single Black September member who had participated in the Munich massacre, wherever he or she was. “Send the boys”, she told her security apparatus heads after thinking long and hard. The hit teams that Mossad formed eventually, in the ensuing months, eliminated the terrorists, including Ali Hassan Salameh, then perhaps the closest aide of Arafat.

So, here’s the contrast for those who have still missed it: We remit capital punishment of terrorists in our custody and the Israelis track down and then eliminate their enemies — whichever part of the world they are in.

Mossad LogoOf course, no account of Mossad’s exploits is complete without the fascinating story of how it got rid of one of the most dreaded and hated Nazi criminals, Adolf Eichmann. Israel’s then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had responded to his intelligence head’s opinion that Eichmann could be captured and brought to the country, with the following words: “Bring him dead or alive…. It would be better to bring him alive. This will be very important for our youth.” And that’s how Eichmann was tracked down in Argentina and brought to Israel. His trial began in April 1961, and he was sentenced to death in December. Five months later, he was executed and his ashes were cast in the Mediterranean.

If it has a desire to learn lessons in internal security, India can do so from Israel. Else, it can continue to pardon its enemies, which will encourage others waiting in the wings to strike at this country and its people. – The Pioneer, 2 March 2014

» Rajesh Singh is Opinion Editor of The Pioneer. 

Dawood Ibrahim's address at 6-A, Khayaban Tanzeem, Defense Housing Area 5, Karachi

AAP’s Mob Rule: Wake-up call for all Indians – Hardeep S. Puri

Hardeep Singh Puri“The attempt to justify the intellectual promiscuity of prominent AAP leaders as reflecting freedom of expression and internal party democracy borders on the absurd. Activist Kumar Vishwas apparently has a very poor view of women in general and those from a particular part of the country, in particular. Democracy in action outside Kerala Bhavan is now in full evidence.” – Hardeep S. Puri

Kejriwal & Kapil Sibal hug at a Dilli mosque!The enthusiasm and fanfare which greeted the establishment of the new political start-up, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is fast evaporating. It has only itself to blame.

Social and political mobilisation against entrenched oppression and rampant corruption invariably impart an attractive flavour. Unless carefully crafted and managed, such protest, as history has repeatedly shown, invariably degenerates and results in unintended conclusions. A protest led by the Mothers’ Movement in Brazil in the early 1960s facilitated conditions for two decades of military rule.

The much-heralded Arab Spring, which was expected to resonate on a Western democratic and pluralistic template, resulted in large-scale destabilisation, the use of force and intervention in Libya and continuing chaos in Syria.

Egypt perhaps provides the best example. The crowds gathered in Tahrir Square protesting against three decades of oppression by Hosni Mubarak resulted, in the first instance, in the election of the Islamic Brotherhood.The brotherhood was subsequently overthrown in a counter coup, again placing political power in the hands of a military ruler who could end up more authoritarian and repressive than Mubarak.

The use of a mob as an instrument in political negotiations is risky at the best of times. The mob led by the law minister of Delhi, Somnath Bharti, seeking vigilante-type justice, and the agitation mounted by the chief minister of Delhi, seeking either full statehood or control of the police, add a still more dangerous dimension because both were elected representatives who had taken the oath of office. They had sworn to operate within the coordinates of the law and the constitution.

Malviya Nagar SHO Vijay Pal & AAP Rowdy Somnath BhartiIt is unforgivable that the law minister asked the police to take unlawful action. If he does not know that residential premises cannot be searched without a warrant or that women cannot be arrested at night, at the very least, he should step down and be sent back to law school. The fact that he has now been identified by a Ugandan women as the person who led the mob that subjected her and others to inhuman treatment makes his continuation completely untenable.

The racial stereotyping and profiling of foreign nationals and subjecting them to vigilante-type justice are entirely condemnable. No civilised country can afford to behave in this manner. The Ministry of External Affairs did well in summoning African envoys to explain that these regrettable incidents were an aberration. Women’s organizations and the National Human Rights Commission should be allowed to do the rest. We should keep our fingers crossed that the misguided actions of the inexperienced political novices of AAP does not resonate internationally either in human rights fora or make our large overseas population vulnerable to similar reprisal action.

The attempt to justify the intellectual promiscuity of prominent AAP leaders as reflecting freedom of expression and internal party democracy borders on the absurd. Activist Kumar Vishwas apparently has a very poor view of women in general and those from a particular part of the country, in particular. Democracy in action outside Kerala Bhavan is now in full evidence.

Prashant BhushanThe other party activist, Prashant Bhushan, wants to play football with national security by seeking a referendum on the presence of the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir. This approach to dealing with problems of Maoist violence-affected areas also deserves honourable mention.

The middle class, by definition, is not revolutionary by nature. It is self-righteous, places a premium on expanding its rights and is easily encouraged by non-violent mobilisation against oppression and corruption. There is, however, another character of the middle class, more pronounced and more dominant.

It is fickle and displays an increasing propensity to quickly become disenchanted if the established order is threatened by chaos and anarchy. Arvind Kejriwal’s 36-hour dharna (sit-in) outside Rail Bhavan came close to doing precisely that. If Kejriwal had persisted with the agitation a little longer, it is entirely possible that the central government may have been left with no option but to use security forces to evict the squatters who, in this case, were led by the elected chief minister.

All this, however, raises a more fundamental question. The anarchist streak within the AAP has been in evidence for some time. What is the Congress party’s threshold for tolerance? It is, after all, Congress support which gives the AAP the oxygen to continue in power. Surely, to pull the plug now would be less costly than before this irrational outfit mounts another and more dangerous agitation. Equally, if the next agitation focusses on the 10 years of corruption by the Congress government in Delhi, the public opinion fallout for those supplying the oxygen will be more costly.

Kejriwal's DharnaAny analysis of whether the resolution of the 36-hour crisis amounts to capitulation by a weak government scared of the mob or amounts to a victory by Kejriwal is entirely beside the point. This should be a wake-up call for all Indians because what has distinguished India from so many other countries in the world is the ability of our democracy to resolve differences in a peaceful and harmonious manner.

The ‘so-called’ practical solution that ended the 36-hour stand-off may have saved the Republic Day celebrations but has dented the republic based on the rule of law. If all that was required was two policemen proceeding on leave, was this farcical grandstanding really necessary? – Business Standard, 23 January 2014

»  Hardeep S. Puri is a retired diplomat who last served as India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. He can be contacted at hardeepsinghpuri@yahoo.com