Chennai: With about 38,646 temples under its ambit, it would appear to be an uphill task for the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department to take up renovation on a massive scale. Renovation is invariably taken up focusing on kumbhabhishekam, besides ancient temples needing urgent renovation. Despite this, there is a plea from several quarters to introduce external audit mechanism.
Though there is internal audit and the department liberally grants permission to philanthropists keen on taking up renovation at their own expenses, there ought to be an external audit mechanism to monitor the funds flow, claims P. Vasu, Temple Priests Welfare Association. “There are several hundreds of temples in remote rural areas which are totally neglected. They need immediate attention,” Mr Vasu says and adds that ancient temples in remote and interior villages too are in dire need for renovation.
Though many temples have gradually become victims of neglect, in the recent past the evolving developments in the idol theft cases appear to shadow the renovation work. Requests for funds from the government or those seeking approvals from philanthropists to take up renovation, on behalf of the temples, are not getting speedy clearance with the Idol Wing police arresting few HR & CE officials and enquiring some others in the series of idol theft cases.
To make matters worse, chief sthapathi of the HR & CE Muthiah Sthapathi, who inspects the temples and offers his technical opinion and expertise too in renovating the temples, was arrested in March this year, by the idol wing Police for allegedly “engaging in a pre-meditated common criminal conspiracy to remove the original Moolavar Navabashana idol and replace it with a metal idol in the renowned Sri Dhandayudhapaniswamy temple, Palani.” He was assigned the task of creating a new idol of Dhandayudhapani with different metals along with gold. Devotees contributed the metals, including gold. However, after inspection of the new idol, it was established that the new idol was without the specified quantities of the metals, including gold.
Apparently sensing inordinate delay in granting approvals with the chief sthapathi involved in a controversy, the HR & CE department had appointed one Dakshinamurthy Sthapathi, replacing Muthiah. But, sources in the department claim that the new chief sthapathi had not taken charge for some reason.
“Also, with a senior official herself landing in trouble in the idol theft case, it has become rather difficult for the higher ups to clear the files. At least 260 temples including some ancient shrines across Tamil Nadu are awaiting the final nod from the department to take up renovation ahead of the kumbhabhishekam, which is performed once in 12 years,” a senior official said.
These 260 temples are among the 'listed' temples and in addition several hundreds of smaller temples are awaiting for clearance, it is said. “The department approval is given once the temples furnish a power-point presentation on the requirement for funds, availability of resources, etc. to the senior officials. And after seeking technical opinion from the chief sthapathi, the department grants its permission,” the official explained. Similarly, requests are also granted to philanthropists who furnish letters outlaying the funds they would spend on renovation.
The BJP, which also demanded an audit mechanism in place both in terms of renovation and funds spent on similar works, went a step further and sought the transfer of temple management to an autonomous body....