While there is a British Raj legacy to management and interference in Hindu temples, it was the Tamil Nadu government in 1951 took over control of temples and their funds in Tamil Nadu via an Act.
This Act was originally brought about by atheists in 1925 and was called the Madras Religious & Charitable Endowments Act 1925. Muslims and Christians raised a lot of noise and they were then left out of it, and the act was renamed Madras Hindu Religious & Endowments Act, 1925 (I am sure that Hindus must have made noise as well, but pagan religions as opposed to Abrahamics, despite having extremely regressive ideas about God, seem to have special animosity with (reformist) atheists from within the Hindu fold).
The 1951 Act was challenged in the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court, and was struck down by the courts. With some changes, in 1954 and 1956, the government enacted The Tamilnadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 (Tamil Nadu Act 22 of 1959) to tighten its grip on Hindu religious institutions.
To understand this better, read this India Facts article — http://indiafacts.org/temples-and-the-state-in-the-indian-tradition-part-8/ — which explains the gory details of the colonial and post-independence history of subversion of Hindu temples.
The Tamil Nadu HR&CE Act was challenged in the Madras High Court in 1954. Journalist B.R. Haran in his article “HR & CE — A fraud on the constitution” writes: “Between 1950 and 1959 the Madras High Court and Supreme Court heard different cases concerning Chidambaram Temple, Mulkipetta Venkataramana Temple and Shirur Mutt and ruled in all the cases categorically that the HR and CE Act 1951 was ultra vires of the Constitution and struck down the sections of the Act, which sought to appoint executive officers to religious institutions, as arbitrary and unconstitutional”
However, the Tamil Nadu state, via a legislation brought back the HR&CE Act in 1959. Sh. TR Ramesh (who i will introduce later in this FAQ) writes:
“The Government of Madras introduced a new section [section 45] in the 1959 Act which was even more arbitrary and draconian than Sec. 56 of the 1951 Act. It also retained the Sections 63–68 in the new Act which now carried the numbers 71–76. The only section relating to appointment of Executive Officer that was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court was not carried in the new Act. But this would not seem strange if we understand that the intention of the Government and the Department was that no appeal safeguards should be provided to the Trustees of Hindu Institutions against the Department’s illegal and arbitrary orders. Sec. 58(3)(b) of the 1951 Act had earlier afforded such safeguards — it was therefore removed by the Government.”
“More intriguing is the fact that this rogue department continue to appoint executive officers under Sec. 64 of the 1959 Act (the equivalent of Sec. 58 in the 1951 Act) without any power to do so. For example, the deputy commissioner in 1963 modified the scheme for Shri Kamakshi Amman Temple of Kanchipuram, which is under the ownership of the Kanchi Mutt. While proceeding to modify the scheme under Sec. 64 of the Act, the deputy commissioner appointed an executive officer and this is an illegal act.”
A precedent was set for other states to follow
Slowly, other states followed. I quote from an article in The Hindu:
IN STATES all across India, Governments are using one pretext or the other to take over the running of Hindu temples. The Haryana Government recently enacted legislation to take over dozens of temples in the State, following closely on the heels of the “Kurukshetra Shrine Bill” that allowed the State to take over the functioning of 75 temples in the Kurukshetra area. The Archaeological Survey of India recently acquired jurisdiction over the famous temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan. This takeover of temples by Governments follows the precedent set by numerous southern Governments that have over the years acquired a substantial stake in tens of thousands of temples.
The problem is acute in 7 states namely, Tamil Nadu (worst hit), Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Maharashtra, but as you can see every state government has blood on its hands including BJP led governments — even as recent as the Rajasthan government challenging a Supreme Court judgement in Rajasthan High Court. See below:
For ages, Hindu temple land vests in its principal deity which has been recognized as a legal entity by the courts.
But the Rajasthan high court has upturned the norms governing upkeep and administration of temples by ruling that deities being minors could not cultivate land and hence temple land should vest in the state government. The HC order has mainly hit the pujaris hard as they have been for generations maintaining the temples and their families through income from cultivation of temple land.
The consequence of the HC decision is that all lands of deities would now vest with the Rajasthan government, which has even issued advertisement for auction of Deity lands. The petitioner said this ruling affected lakhs of small temples/deities, primarily in the rural areas and small villages.
What is the motivation of the state governments to do so?
Purportedly it is better administration. But prima facie it is to fill state coffers with ‘easy’ temple ‘money’.