Karnataka Legislative Council rejects proposal to collect 10% tax from rich temples

The amendment proposed that 10% of the gross income of temples whose gross annual income exceeds Rs 1 crore would be put in the common pool.
Ramalinga Reddy
Ramalinga Reddy
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The Congress government faced a setback as the Legislative Council on Friday, February 24 did not approve the proposed amendments to the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997. These amendments aimed to offer social security measures to more than 40,000 priests of Muzrai temples in the state, along with other proposed changes. When the Bill was approved in the Legislative Assembly, it faced opposition from the BJP who accused the Siddaramaiah government of stealing wealth from rich temples in the state.

Muzrai Minister Ramalinga Reddy, who introduced the amendments in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, said that the money would be used for providing various amenities to temples, offering insurance coverage and death relief to temple priests and granting scholarships to approximately 40,000 children of priest families. He said, “The funds will be managed by Rajya Dharmika Parishad and will primarily be allocated to provide aid to Group C temples and provide welfare measures to priests and their families at these temples.”

During the debate in Council, the amendment Bill encountered opposition to certain provisions from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (Secular) members. It was ultimately defeated after it was put to a voice vote by Deputy Chairman MK Pranesh, given the combined opposition's majority in the Council. 

The opposition objected to several proposals, including the inclusion of 10% of the gross income from 87 temples earning over Rs 1 crore annually, and 5% of gross income from 311 temples earning over Rs 10 lakh annually, into a Common Pool Fund administered by Rajya Dharmika Parishath. This fund was intended for the welfare of priests and the maintenance of over 34,000 'C' category temples earning less than Rs 5 lakh annually. This proposal differed from the 2011 amendment, where 5% of the net income from temples earning between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh annually, and 10% of the net income from temples earning over Rs 10 lakh annually, were directed to the fund.

During the debate on the Bill in the Council, Leader of the Opposition Kota Srinivas Poojary, who previously held the Muzrai portfolio during the BJP regime, expressed support for the initiative to offer social security measures to priests employed in over 34,000 'C' category temples. However, he objected to the proposal of allocating 10% of the gross income from temples earning over Rs 1 crore to the Common Pool Fund. Additionally, he opposed the idea of the government nominating the president of the temple committee, advocating instead for the committee to select its president from among its members.

Ramalinga Reddy offered to amend the Bill, expressing the government's willingness to forego the nomination of the president and potentially reduce the percentage allocated to the common pool. He said that the government intended to provide financial assistance for housing, children's education, and insurance to priests in 'C' category temples, estimating an expected revenue of about Rs 60 crore from the proposal, with Rs 25 crore designated for the upkeep of 'C' category temples. He noted that the previous BJP government in 2011 had similarly allocated 10% of temples' net collections to the Common Pool Fund.

Responding to Srinivas’s suggestion of allotting specified amounts in the budget, the Minister also acknowledged the challenge of securing funds annually and suggested that earmarking the amount in the budget might not guarantee consistent provision in subsequent years. 

When the opposition pressed for changes before passing the Bill, the Minister requested time until Monday to consult with the Chief Minister due to the financial implications. However, the Deputy Speaker, MK Pranesh, presiding over the session, deemed postponement impractical as the Bill had already been considered. He adjourned the House briefly to allow leaders to reach an agreement. Upon reconvening, he proceeded to put the Bill to a vote, resulting in its defeat.

Read: Karnataka govt amends law to collect 10% tax from temples, BJP calls them anti-Hindu 

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