Thursday, November 9, 2017

Air Pollution in Delhi - What Can Be Done?

Air Pollution Affects Everyone, and Needs Multi-Dimensional Solutions (image: Indian Express)
There is enough discussion already on the politics of tackling the air pollution crisis that has engulfed Delhi-NCR right now. I am not going to dwell on that. What I will instead do is to explain the causes of air pollution in Delhi, and how a graded strategy plan much in line with the GRAP of the Supreme Court appointed EPCA is necessary to understand just what it will take to solve the problem. People may think that it is a problem only for Delhi. However, other cities should also take a leaf and tackle the problem, as in their case numbers are not necessarily under attention.

CAUSES
Air pollution in Delhi-NCR has always targeted two main culprits - transportation and industry. The role of industrial emissions and transportation has been discussed due to its evident nature for decades now, with the first public interest litigation being filed in this matter way back in the 1980s by the doyen of environmental law, Mahesh Chand Mehta. The problem has persisted despite several steps being announced, since they were myopically addressing the problem within Delhi’s jurisdictional boundary. It is no secret that CNG bus fleets were introduced in Delhi only when the Supreme Court threatened to dismiss Shiela Dikshit’s government for continued contempt of court. Even the Delhi Metro was actually a response filed by Sahib Singh Verma’s government as part of the plan to control air pollution in Delhi. Fuel quality switches were also enabled by the court orders.


Today, the problem has gone back to square one for these reasons and much more. While actual emissions from industries within the city came down significantly, the problem of running industry on diesel and HFO gensets due to a horrendous power supply from the discoms supplying to cities in the NCR Region rendered the measure ineffective. Diesel and HFO contribute not only gaseous emissions but also significant load of particulate matter (PM), the true silent killer. Similar gains made with a CNG switch were lost because of too many diesel cars entering in the private vehicle market, driven by a perverse diesel subsidy regime that was done away with only in 2014. Diesel vehicles, however good, still emit PM at harmful enough levels, when added up in the huge numbers in which they get added up in the city daily. Moreover, two wheeler engine technology is still not strictly regulated, making their share to Delhi’s air pollution far bigger than one would perceive. Add to it the discrepancy in the quality of fuel supplied inside Delhi-NCR as well as the applicable vehicle emission standard due to the ‘tier of city’ rule, and we have a crisis of our own making entirely.

Construction has become a headache very recently, and is the city’s bane in every sense. Endless digging for a host of purposes, be it private or public structures, and improper dust management and disposal have made the situation bad. It gets compounded due to re-suspension from the roads, and in weather conditions like the present one, there is no escaping the cloud hanging, with its heady and toxic cocktail of gas and particles.

Weather’s role was not understood properly till very recently. An airshed approach should have been adopted long back, since weather phenomena has widely been kown to play a pivotal role in creating the problem. Smog is a reaction due to weather phenomena, plenty of which is seen. Stubble burning drifts from Punjab and Haryana are not a unique feature globally - Malaysia and Singapore face the wrath of burning forests from Indonesia similarly. It would pass but for lack of wind in Delhi and an easterly front coming up that traps the gases into a big bowl, since all these regions are essentially one big airshed. Stubble burning has its role in sending smoke, and needs comprehensive planning.

Local human habits have a role to play as well. Open chulhas, sigris and tandoors are still used in the city in many areas, becoming a major contributor to the problem. Waste burning is also a major issue in Delhi’s winter season, given the failure of air to rise and disperse unlike summers. Despite efforts, waste burning have not seen a successful control strategy. Food habits are difficult to change till suitable alternatives are not identified.

SOLUTIONSNone of the problems have a short term solution. Sure, you can ban generators, curtail construction activity to some extent, spray some water around, quickly vacuum broom roads, and apply odd even policies. All these however are piecemeal efforts at best. What is needed is a strong mid term and long term plan to face the crisis head-on, else the problem will never go away.

Let us start with low hanging fruits first:
  1. Ensure non-stop electricity supply in ALL areas. Only then will the generator ban be effective.
  2. Ensure that construction activity complies with the stringent norms of dust control they promise. Even municipal authorities should be penalizing people who do not take the necessary mitigation measures at individual sites. All powers should be given to enable that. A roadmap to enable this enforcement through effective policy change should be prioritized.
  3. Ensure waste management and disposal network is strengthened. Burning of waste should be curtailed strongly by ensuring segregation and recycling, right at the community level. Penalize and shame people who fail to do so. Instead of fining, jail people who are responsible for burning waste. At the same time, teach sanitation workers the necessity to avoid waste burning.
  4. Gensets should switch fuel. Make sure gas supplies run, and gensets using the same are available. Gas is a cleaner fuel especially for particulate matter.
  5. Tandoors, chulhas and sigris should be made all electric. Special tariffs can be arranged. Switching away from coal and wood is imperative and easy. In slum areas, one can even accelerate the Ujjawala scheme through electric hotplates and induction plates for cooking.

Next layer of solutions are tougher, and are not easy, still being pursued. However, it must be accelerated to 2019 instead of 2020, ensuring earlier resolution to the problem:
  1. Ensure vehicle standards are same for all vehicles irrespective of the city tier. It will face some resistance but will go a long way in tackling the issue.
  2. Vehicle scrap yards must be set up. All vehicles greater than 10 year old must be disincentivized. They should not be allowed to ply even in other cities by monitoring the same through the national vehicle inventory database that already exists.
  3. Fuel standards should be stringent. 2020 is the target date for Bharat Standard VI. It should however be accelerated further by one year. Technology is not an issue. Oil marketing companies can be funded for the same through a National Clean Energy Fund that was being so far used for GST compensation.
  4. Public transport systems must be prioritized and expanded, while addressing last mile connectivity issues. Metro rails or bus corridors cannot be isolated solutions.
  5. Strongly push for electric vehicles. While E-rickshaws are being pushed for employment, people have completely forgotten electric two wheelers and four wheelers. Even a 15% road share deployment will have a huge impact. Funding them will need innovative financing mechanisms, which can and must be pursued.
  6. A timeline should be identified for putting all major construction activity to a full stop. Piecemeal, start and sputter efforts of random digging and public infrastructure construction works, including housing, must come to a halt. Permissions should be followed up with stringent penalties if dust control measures are not followed to the hilt.
  7. Make sure that all industries comply to air emission norms, and encash bank guarantees wherever necessary to set examples.
  8. Ensure surplus low cost finance is available for introducing pollution control measures. Such industries across all sectors should also be provided some kind of incentive or benefit over polluting ones through regulatory measures.
These are just some measures. The debate is endless; the answers are too. It is not a one off event, and not going to affect only Delhi, and therefore needs to be a collective effort. As the UN Representative to India aptly put it about Delhi's pollution today:
“Environmental situations such as the current Delhi smog cannot be tackled just by addressing the issue of the number of cars or banning firecrackers. There has to be an all- encompassing approach.”

Friday, September 29, 2017

Hindu Decline, Not Rejuvenation, Lies in Creating a Nation of Minorities

Gudi Pawda Procession (Courtesy: Times of India)
R Jagannathan’s take on the idea of dissolving ‘inward looking Hindu varna-jati’ set up in order to create a million minorities for the larger benefit of Hinduism is an idea that seems to be getting traction, especially in the light of decisions pushed under the acutely problematic Right to Education Act. There is this belief that this will enable Hindus to probably survive the onslaught of Abrahamism inspired secular state. However, this argument is problematic at several levels, and often does not seem to take cognizance of history completely, while also suggesting that exploitation of loopholes in the current legal set up will allow Hindus to practice their traditions. However, these assumptions do not hold water when examined against the current set up, which we shall discuss.

Overcoming the Caste Barriers - Dharma Has Always Been Fighting the IssueCaste barriers, caste and casteism are three distinct threads that often get confused in debate frenzy. Often it is the case that the three are conflated and a picture is presented that there has been no effort made to fight the scourge of casteism. It is however only within the larger Hindu fold that casteism has been fought, not outside of it. Much discussion has been done on this topic, so I would like to only delve on it in brief. One may say that Ramanujacarya was the only one within the Hindu fold who fought this problem at the root level; however, fact is that nearly all of the reformer saints didn’t see themselves independent of the Hindu fold in any way. Barring self declarations by their followers, the teachings of Kabir, Namdev or Guru Jambheshwar and many other did not identify the proponent independent of Hindu traditions. There is much similarity in these cases with the larger sannyasi-jogi traditions that have always existed, which did not necessarily ridicule tradition. Moreover, it is the strength of the Hindu tradition that all these rebel groups were accommodated at different stages with utmost respect into the same varna-jati fold that they supposedly fought against! Prime examples of the same can be seen in the way communities like Lingayats and Bishnois have been incorporated into the jati fold with time. Even within the Dharmic fold we see figures such as Chaitanya, Ravidas ji and much later Dayananda Saraswati taking the problem of casteism head on instead of advocating the abolition of caste. With these facts under consideration, one wonders how Hindu tradition cannot be considered strong, flexible and adaptable with umpteen examples of this kind, and it is this ability allowed the survival against an alternative legal and social ideology for a millennium, and still is in many ways, when one sees how followers of gurus and swamis today manage to identify themselves in the larger Hindu fold. Even the Sikh movements were an attempt to fight the problem of rampant casteism and untouchability, as Nanak Dev ji had repeatedly demonstrated and lived out in his life time.

Systematic Discrimination in the Current State is Inbuilt
For those who believe that taking a minority approach will help overcome this barrier, there is bad news. The current Constitutional state has always been discriminatory against the majority of the state in every manner, particularly when it comes to addressing institutional inequality. Temple control has always been a matter of much debate. The celebrated judgements of the Kamakhya Shrine or the Chidambaram temple do help walk a few steps, but essentially, the fundamental nature of how we can control our places of worship still has not changed. HR&CE department of Tamil Nadu still controls the temples, and Karnataka imposes a muzrai on the temples in its state. This has not come up in a vacuum - the distinctly flawed approach by our legal and judicial systems in dividing the secular from the religious in understanding Hindu tradition created a loophole that allowed unabated discrimination to be justified and implemented, as explained wonderfully by advocate J Sai Deepak last year. This stems from an Abrahamic understanding of the relationship between the church and the state, which was never the case in India. Similar is the case with education. Even if you may be under control of your educational institutions, the systematic discrimination propagated by the state even against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes when one compares just the scholarships given to them against religious minorities on a per student basis in India. As Arihant Pawariya pointed out in his lecture last year, an SC student in India gets less than half the scholarship compared to a minority student, while for OBC students, pre-matriculate scholarships are one-third of the minority students. Even though the Constitutional guarantee of reservation for students of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes exists in India, the guarantee of financial support is laughable when put into context. With a malicious reading of Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India being put into practice on a daily basis, one has to be somewhat naive to believe that doing away with exemptions for minority institutions of the Right to Education Act will be possible and implementable. You cannot have a one legged man participating in a 100m sprint.

Fragmentation Makes Castes Weaker

Fragmentation of society has created a further weakening of Hindu society, as the possibility of support systems that can aid other communities reduces, allowing vested interests to fill in the institutional vacuum. To believe that the adversaries are inflexible and will not adjust to shifting grounds is highly optimistic on the part of those advocating this line. There are sufficient examples to bring this to point. Several elements within the Sikh community have made attempts to show how the community is not a Hindu sect. Be that as it may, the attempts have led to efforts to insulate the community, making it inward looking. Its impact on the community has been largely negative, with the community today seeing a sharp decline in its share of India's population growth rate, and ever more vulnerable to efforts to break through it, as seen in the explosive growth of proselytizers in the state. Another example is the alarming rate of Hindu population decline in Kerala, where reform movements ended up in major groupings adopting isolationist approaches. A Nair Seva Samaj (NSS) worker and a Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalan (SNDP) Yugam worker will not see eye to eye, and their institutions will not assist the others necessarily. This hostility has been taken advantage of by communal groups of minorities, which have taken every opportunity to influence and convert people. Moreover, the state has also been systematically discriminatory against the Hindu community at large, and as a result Hindus despite being the largest community today are the poorest of the lot in Kerala, while Christians and Muslims are seeing high affluence levels, and Nairs and Ezhavas individually have lost much political capital with the political parties in the state, who seek minority votes more eagerly instead. This concept of minorityism allows Breaking India forces and fissiparous elements to gain strength, as can be seen for instance in the manner in which ‘Dalit rights’ movements have been completely hijacked today. Tamil Nadu’s ‘rationalist’ movement had killed Hinduism in fact, leading to a decline in the cultural vibrancy of the state, while giving strength to separatist elements. Moreover, such minorityism is now pushing for extending intended Constitutional protections and reservations to those outside the Hindu fold, which if allowed, will weaken them further, as can be seen in how sections of the Lingayats have played right into the hands of the forces that keep insisting that they are not Hindus, and have the potential to reduce their political relevance in Karnataka.

What is needed is not a million minorities, therefore, but the amalgamation of the various Dharmic entities to come together on a common platform and fight the various challenges they are facing together with a single voice. Minorityism does not take any community anywhere, and in fact will end up weakening them, even as the state in its present form will continue to find ways to discriminate against them and not identify them as anything else but Hindu. A modern Hindu movement, not a million minorities, is where rejuvenation of Dharma truly lies.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

तनहाई

एक ही बात थी
जो तुमसे कहना चाहते थे
दिल की हर तह में
बस तुम्हें ही रखना चाहते थे

मगर ये मुमकिन न कर सके
सच्चाई के पत्थर ने
ख़्वाहिशों के आईने तोड़े थे
उनके बेहिसाब टुकड़े किये थे

कामयाबी की उम्मीदों के
कुछ बुक्कल भी सिलवाए थे
वो वक़्त की उभरी कीलों में
उलझ कर सब उधड़ गए थे

वो रात के चाँद को देख के कुछ
सपनों के फूल महकाए थे
बेमौसम हालात की आँधी ने
गुलशन ही उखाड़ फेंके थे

बस अब मायूँसी रह गयी है हाथ
जिसे पूछने कोई न आता है
वो ग़म की काली गहरी रात
हर पल एहसास कराता है

अब कुछ भी नहीं है मेरे हाथ
जो था हालात उसे ले गए थे
दो वक़्त की साँसे छोड़ पीछे
मुझे तनहा छोड़ कहीं खो गए थे



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reforming Temple Administration in India Part III – Judicial Successes of Chidambaram and Kamakhya

In the first two parts of the series, we examined the Akali Movement to understand the key political and legislative lessons that can be explored and incorporated to some extent in administering Hindu temples. However, that is not to say that there are not any ongoing efforts to free as well as reform the administration of key temples. In this part, we shall examine two key judgments in this regard that led to outcomes in favour of the petitioners – the Chidambaram temple case and the Kamakya shrine case. We shall derive the key arguments that caused the Supreme Court to overturn government attempts at taking over the temples, and understand their implications for other bigger temples across the country. We shall also examine why the arguments against this freeing do not have any merit to them, and need to be dismissed altogether as they do not have any credibility to them.

The Chidambaram Natarajar Case in Tamil Nadu
Chidambaram Natarajar Temple in Tamil Nadu

In January 2014, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment, whereby the appellants, the Podhu Dikshitars, represented by Dr Subramanyam Swamy, were declared the rightful claimants to the administration of the historically significant Chidambaram Natarajar temple. The judgment was significant as the Supreme Court recognized the rights of the Dikshitars as a religious denomination, and acknowledged that their traditional position vis-à-vis the Temple was analogous to muttadhipati of a mutt. What was interesting to note was the attempt of the state of Tamil Nadu to intimidate the petitioners by reopening a 1952 case via the Madras High Court despite it having a Supreme Court ruling, thus creating an instance of judicial indiscipline. The petitioners had argued their position under Article 26 of the Constitution of India and had also maintained that as per the in view of the provisions of Section 45 read with Section 107 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act 1959, even if the State has a power to regulate the activities of the Temple, that does not qualify them with the right and authority to divest the Dikshitars from their right to manage and administer the Temple and its properties. The Supreme Court particularly stated that

“Even if the Temple was neither established, nor owned by the said respondent, nor such a claim has ever been made by the Dikshitars, once the High Court in earlier judgment has recognized that they constituted `religious denomination’ or section thereof and had right to administer the Temple since they had been administering it for several centuries, the question of re-examination of any issue in this regard could not arise.”

The Supreme Court ruled that any executive officer appointed by the government for the temple in question can only assist the original trustees of the temple, and that the 1959 Act does not give the executive the authority to replace the trustees as the administrator of the temple. Furthermore, the Supreme Court observed that management of a temple if taken over to remedy an evil cannot perpetuate into eternity – it has to be a fixed tenure, as the purpose of taking over the management and administration is not the removal and replacement of the existing administration but to rectify and stump out the consequences of maladministration. Once the problem has been addressed, the temple administration has to be handed back to the concerned persons with immediate effect. In the words of the Supreme Court:

“Continuation thereafter would tantamount to usurpation of their proprietary rights or violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution in favour of the persons deprived.…. Thus, such expropriatory order requires to be considered strictly as it infringes fundamental rights of the citizens and would amount to divesting them of their legitimate rights to manage and administer the temple for an indefinite period. We are of the view that the impugned order is liable to be set aside for failure to prescribe the duration for which it will be in force.”

The Kamakhya Bordeori Samaj Case in Assam
Kamakhya Devi Shaktipeetha in Assam
In July 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the Gauhati High Court paving the way for the dolois of Kamakhya to run the affairs of the historic temple, restoring the administration of Guwahati’s Kamakhya temple to the Bordeori Samaj, families of priests who had run the temple since time immemorial until 1998, when the Kamakhya Debuttar Board was formed. This judgment was taken after combining several petitions related to the temple administration, the affairs of its properties and the identification of the Deoris for the election of a Bordeoris to the Doloi, which was a traditional practice at the ancient temple. Several appellants had contested this appeal of the Samaj by saying that essential religious rites of Maa Kamakhya Temple was still left in the hands of the Dolois as per custom and the Debutter Board is governing and entitled to govern only the secular/non religious activities of the temple and its properties. However, the Supreme Court dismissed their claim, and upheld the historicity of practice of the Bordeuri Samaj, while referring to the 1873 findings of the then Judicial Commissioners which clearly stated that

1. The office of the Doloi is not a hereditary office, but elective and the right of election is in the hands of the Bordeoris;

2. As the Government will no longer take any steps, as of old, to guard the Temple funds from misappropriation by the Dalois, the power to guard them must be held to have developed upon the Elective Body; and

3. The power of guarding is clearly a power some one must exercise, as it would be in the highest degree wrong to have left the uncontrolled management to the Dolois.

Moreover, the Court clearly accepted the contention of the Bordeuri Samaj that the distinct identity of the Bordeoris, and that the Bordeoris, as a class, had the right to watch over the administration of the temple lands, and protect such funds from waste, and that the Dolois are, so to speak, their (the Bordeoris) agents in that matter. Also, the Court stated that the powers of the Bordeories and Dolois not been taken away or adversely affected by the Act as it stood earlier or even after Section 25A of the Assam State Acquisition of Lands Belonging to Religious or Charitable Institutions of Public Nature Act, 1959 was inserted, given that the objective and reasoning for setting up a the statutory Committee under Section 25A as noted by the Division Bench in paragraph 111 of the judgment under appeal and extracted earlier in this judgment categorically clarify that it was (i) to have control over the annuity and (ii) to verify and audit the accounts to the satisfaction of the concerned authority. The statutory Committee under Section 25A is therefore concerned only with the annuity payable or paid under the Act to the Head of the Institution and not with its ownership or management.

One important observation that the Supreme Court made was with respect to the implications of Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. The Court reiterated that Article 25(2)(a) and Article 26(b) guarantees the right to every religious denomination to manage its own affairs in matters of religion, and any law contemplated under Article 25(2)(b) has to be read in harmony with 26(b) .i.e. it cannot be in conflict with the guarantees given under the latter. It further reiterated that

“…social reforms or the need for regulations contemplated by Article 25(2) cannot obliterate essential religious practices or their performances and what would constitute the essential part of a religion can be ascertained with reference to the doctrine of that religion itself.”

Commonalities of the Two Verdicts and the Faulty Logic of India’s Professional Secularists

Between the two cases, the Supreme Court’s interpretations have been strictly in line with the guarantees given under the Constitution. Article 25 and Article 26 cannot be read in conflict with each other, and Hindus, particularly sects that can establish themselves as a religious denomination, have the rights to manage the affairs of their religious places WITH ASSISTANCE of the relevant administrative authorities of the state, even if that institution is covered by a state specific religious endowments act. This is important, as the ruling opens the door for the community to take control of their temples much like how the Sikh community manages its gurdwaras. Kindly note however that the temples are NOT still out of the affairs of the government, as the court still identifies the need of the government to support the administration, and this can have dangerous results, as was seen in the dirty attempts of the Tarun Gogoi led Assam government in seizing the administration of the temple by influencing the Doloi elections in 2016. Hence the legal system still needs to be approached for creating the necessary firewalls.

Another important aspect that comes out of the judgments is the aspect of social justice on which several liberal apologists and professional secularists of India have cried foul. The argument that is pushed forward is that these institutions are hotbeds of corruption and casteism, and that only the state should have control of them. This is not only a blatantly biased argument, it also fails to conceptualize several important factors. No temple in India could ever not work without lower caste people inside in the first place, so to claim exclusion of several temple dependent communities of the past who are now going into oblivion is only a partial picture with deliberate strokes. Even today, only a craftsman of the backward Maharana community of Odisha can craft the image of Lord Jagannatha from the wood of a Daru Brahma tree. Yes, there was discrimination against Dalits, but even the Supreme Court has pointed out that once a necessary evil has been remedied the government HAS to relinquish the control of the temple management. With the major temples today open to people of all castes and there being acceptance for all communities in these precincts, there remains no reason why the government can be allowed to retain control of the temples. Another falsehood that temples do not spend their earnings on the welfare of the community at large, since the earnings of the temple are being entirely pocketed by the government without giving proper accounts across all states. Even in the Chidambaram case, the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure at the inability of the state government to present book of accounts of the temple. Massive cases of corruption and theft over time have emerged from all major temples of South India – this despite the so called long arm of the government! Why have the professional apologists not said anything about this mismanagement? To make matters worse, temples of Hindus unlike other communities also pay income tax and several other taxes such as the 5% levy as per the Muzrai regulations of Karnataka, and are also involved across several tax tribunals because of such appalling practices of the state government. In no other country would one imagine a so called secular state having such a selective approach which borders on a quasi-sharia state administration. Therefore, the professional secularists have no authority to argue without facts supporting their bizarre claims of state owning the religious institutions of only one community. Another thing that seems to get the tongue of these professionals is the blatant discrimination perpetuated by the state against the poor priesthood of the temple through abysmal salaries as well as special VIP lanes being created. The roots of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu were rooted in supposed economic discrimination; today however, the shoe is on the other foot, as so called rationalists do not even flinch as temples fund SUV fleets and security cordons of greedy officers and professional Dravidians. When such cases come to light, it is the Hindu community that is to blame all over again, while the leash of the government on the temples is quietly buried under the sand. Therefore, these liberals and secularists would do well to just keep quiet, given how facts are now so inconvenient to them.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reforming Temple Administration in India Part II - Learning from the Management of Sikh Gurdwaras

Gurdwara Sisganj Sahib in Delhi (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
In the first part, we had a brief glimpse of the history of the Akali movement to wrest gurdwaras in Punjab out of government control. In this part, we shall have a look at the administrative models arising from the movement, which have seen several amendments over time, but have remain pretty much the same in principle and spirit since 1925. We shall elaborate particularly on two aspects of gurdwara management and administration set up, namely the constitution of the Boards as well as the management of the properties and finances of the gurdwaras. We shall also examine the criticisms obviated by such models, and explore the key takeaways for Hindu religious institutions in order to propose alternatives to the current governance model that we see with temples.

The Administrative Models of Gurdwaras in India - Observed Differences

There are gurdwaras across all parts of India, and that has meant that the way many of them run may be different. There are two basic models of public control that one can see across the country today. For the sake of convenience, I shall categorize the three as:

1. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) Model - one sees the model operating across the entire north-west region in some form or the other. While SGPC itself directly controls gurdwaras of Punjab and Himachal, Delhi has a separate State Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) that is modelled along the same lines. Such an exercise was also attempted in Haryana, though the bill did not stand scrutiny of the judiciary for lack of robustness. The key laws for consideration that are extant and operational today are:

a) The Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925; and

b) The Delhi Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1971

2. The Nanded-Patna Model: This model can be seen for the gurdwaras in Patna in Bihar and Nanded in Maharashtra, two extremely important and holy cities beyond North-west India for Sikhs due to their association with the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji. The administration of all the key gurdwaras in the cities and important districts is entirely followed as per this model. The key statute of interest here is the Nanded Sikh Gurdwara Sachkhand Shri Hazur Apchalnagar Sahib Act, 1956. This act is pretty much observed to be paralleled by the Bihar government’s action in the same year for the administration of Patna Saheb.

The two models are different from each other in several aspects. The selection of the overarching Board that oversees the administration and management of gurdwaras is distinctly different between the two administration models. In the SGPC model, there is a body that has several nominees from across the board that also includes a Committee that is chosen through direct elections by the community for a period of five years. The process followed is entirely on the lines of universal suffrage, and constituencies are marked out so as to ensure adequate administration. The elections are also monitored and supervised by a state level Gurdwara Election Commission. For instance, the SGPC in Punjab has the following break up:
  • 170 elected members, directly elected by the voters in universal suffrage manner by those identified as Sikhs under the 1925 Act and its various amendments. 25 of these seats are reserved for Mazhabdhari Sikhs to ensure adequate representation;
  • Head ministers of the five Takhats located at the following locations - Harmandir Sahib (Amritsar), Keshgarh Sahib (Anandpur Sahib), Patna Sahib (Patna), Hazur Sahib (Nanded) and Damdama Sahib (Talwandi Sabo); and
  • 25 Indian citizens, including 12 from the Patiala and East Punjab states, 9 non-PEPSU regions, and 4 nominees from the Punjab state government.

The Delhi Act suggests a similar model, with 46 elected members elected via universal suffrage by identified voters, and 9 nominees, which are broken down as follows:
  • 2 members nominated by the Singh Sabhas of Delhi
  • 4 members nominated by the Takhats of Amritsar, Anandpur Sahib, Patna and Nanded
  • 1 SGPC member from Amritsar; and
  • 2 nominated members of the Sikh community in Delhi.
In contrast, the Nanded Sikh Gurdwara Sachkhand Shri Hazur Apchalnagar Sahib Board (hereafter the Nanded Board) is a body incorporated entirely by the state government of Maharashtra in the following manner:
  • 2 government nominees;
  • 3 government nominees, all Sikhs, from within the state population - in practice, these tend to be usually people who may get elected as members of the state legislature;
  • 1 nominee from the state of Telangana cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad;
  • 1 nominee from the SGPC in Amritsar;
  • 2 Sikh members of Parliament elected from such areas;
  • 1 member nominated by the Chief Khalsa Diwan of Amritsar; and
  • 4 members nominated by the Suchkhand Hazur Khalsa Diwan, Nanded.
In Patna Sahib too, we see a pattern similar to Nanded, with the following break up of the Management Committee:
  • 3 members nominated by the District Judge, Patna;
  • 1 nominee of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee ,Amritsar;
  • 1 nominee of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar;
  • 1 nominee of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Board;
  • 1 nominee of the Sikh Pratinidhi Board, Uttar Pradesh;
  • 1 nominee of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Calcutta;
  • 1 nominee of the Sanatani Sikh Sabha, Patna City;
  • 1 elected member from North Bihar Singh Sabhas;
  • 1 elected member from South Bihar Singh Sabhas;
  • 3 elected member from the Sikhs of Patna District; and
  • 1 co-opted member of the community nominated by the other 14 members.
One critical aspect of difference to be observed here is in the management of individual gurdwaras and the accountability mechanism. Individual gurdwaras are managed under the SGPC model through the elected member of the management committee. This elected member heads the gurdwara level management committee at his constituency level, aided by three members that are nominated by the Board of the state to aid and assist this person. The SGPC of Punjab is directly responsible for managing all the major gurdwaras within the Takhat cities of Punjab, while SGPC members work on the other gurdwaras. In contrast, the Patna and Nanded bodies control all the gurdwaras within the city precincts, with no scope of delegation of management affairs and responsibilities.

One more distinct point of difference observed between the two models lies in the accommodation of the hereditary gurdwara managers - while the SGPC model paid special attention to such people and focused on giving suitable compensation wherever it was deemed necessary, the Nanded Board has no such judicial body associated with it. In the case of Patna Sahib, the District Magistrate of Patna can intervene if necessary, but the process then enters the district courts. Also, the 1925 Act provides for the creation of trusts for such gurdwaras where the income distribution between identified beneficiaries including hereditary owners and the local gurdwara management committee (explained later) can be legalized, subject to the conduct of the hereditary owners.

In addition to the constitution of the board, an important point of difference lies in the existence of dispute redressal mechanisms amongst the two models. While the SGPC model has a Judicial Commission appointed alongside the Board and Committee to adjudicate on all matters associated with gurdwara management. The Judicial Commissions, as they are designated in the SGPC model, are particular in the sense that only Sikh members are allowed to sit on the board, and any majority or unanimous judgement cannot be undertaken without the presence of the legal luminary who is supposed to preside as its chair, usually a Retired judge of higher judiciary or an esteemed lawyer from within the Sikh community. In case of dissatisfaction with their judgement, the aggrieved party can take up to the High Court of the state in question. On the other hand, the Nanded and Patna models do not have provisions for redressing disputes; such matters have to be taken up directly with the judiciary. However, unlike the Nanded model’s absence of internal actions, the executive identified and appointed in either case can be removed through a no-confidence motion if necessary in the SGPC model

Management of Finances and Accountability Mechanisms

Within the SGPC Model as well as the Nanded Model, there is considerable focus on the way finances of the gurdwaras are to be run. All gurdwaras have to account for their properties, incomes, finances as well as donations they get in a thorough manner. These management committees report to an overarching Management Committee that directly reports to the Board. The scope of actions includes maintaining diaries and account books in order, which shall have to be presented before the board at the end of every year when the Board meets, or whenever asked by the Board to present the same. In both the models, there is a lot of attention paid to the flow of the money. There is clarity in the fact that the incomes of the gurdwara have to be first spend on the gurdwara itself to ensure its maintenance and upkeep. This also includes paying the salaries of the various staff members and the various other figures associated with the gurdwara. Surpluses till the point of identification of activities for spending have to be maintained by the Committee, to which they have been credited, in specific ways - either in bank accounts, or in government securities, national saving certificates or in the form of immovable properties owned by the gurdwara. Also, all offering to the gurdwara belong to the gurdwara, and the entire electoral and management process right up to the Central Board level is funded by the institutions themselves.

In the Punjab Act of 1925, only if there is a surplus is the money after that is the money allowed to be spent on philanthrophic activities. The same can be seen in the 1971 Delhi Act as well with some minor differences. For instance, the Delhi Act very clearly identifies all the activities for which the gurdwara monies have to be spent, which are:

(i) to arrange for the proper performance of the religious rites and ceremonies in the Gurdwaras,

(ii) to provide facilities for worship by the devotees at the Gurdwaras,

(iii) to ensure safe custody of its funds, movable and immovable properties, deposits, offerings in cash or kind

(iv) to do all such things as may be incidental and conducive to the efficient management of the affairs of Gurdwaras, educational and other institutions under the Committee and their properties or to the convenience of devotees,

(v) to provide suitable accommodation and facilities for pilgrims,

(vi) to maintain free langars,

(vii) to manage the historic and other Gurdwaras, educational and other institutions and their properties in such a way as to make them inspiring centres of the Sikh tradition, culture and religion,

(viii) to ensure maintenance of order, discipline and proper hygienic conditions in Gurdwaras, educational and other institutions under its management,

(xiii) to give stipends to needy and deserving students,

(xiv) to render help in the case of the uplift of the Sikh community and propagation of Sikh religion,

(xv) to perform such other functions and to do such religious or charitable acts, as may be prescribed by regulations for carrying out the purposes of this Act.

The identification of the areas on which gurdwara money shall be spent has to be presented in advance every year. Most such proposals have to obtain a majority of 3/4th members present and voting so that they can be carried out at the local level. Any matter of impropriety where detected can be dealt with immediately by the Board, which can be convened on an emergency basis through appropriate actions like suspension, dismissal and immediate appropriation of gurdwara assets to prevent further loss. The key difference between the two models can be seen here, since the presence of the elected members can help ensure that the community’s views on asset management as well as accountability can be considered and voted upon. In contrast, the same cannot be said entirely for the management committees of Patna and Nanded, though they have several nominated and elected members from all corners of the Sikh community.

Major Drawbacks of the SGPC Model and Other Lessons for the Hindu Community

While several drawbacks of the Nanded-Patna model have been brought up with respect to the SGPC model’s advantages, there still are several flaws that have been observed with the SGPC model. In recent times, the SGPC in Punjab has been subject to significant criticism on two major counts - lack of respect for liturgical diversity within gurdwaras; and the politicization of the SGPC elections. There was a lot of diversity in individual gurdwaras across India in liturgical practices, that also reflected the impact of the local traditions. There has been ongoing standardization with the Sikh community’s Takhats coming together and working to achieve common objectives. However, some of this may also be considered to be ongoing evolution of faith that has been seen with older traditions. However, this is a particular problem that will confront the Hindu community and any version that may be considered for adoption and presentation will have to ensure, given the immense diversity and locality of traditions right down to archana and sthalapurana.

Another criticism that is evident has been the politicization of the management committees. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its various breakaway factions and opponents have been wrestling to control the gurdwaras, with a particular focus on utilizing the significant chadava or offerings, and the incomes of the gurdwaras. Donations are allowed under the set of activities, and the problem stems with the lack of clarity as well as the legal loopholes given in the political parties for donations. The Delhi Act of 1971 particularly prohibits gurdwaras from making donations to political organizations, while Haryana’s botched efforts to establish its own State Gurdwara Management Committee were driven in part by the then Congress government to stymie the flow of funding to SAD in Punjab. There have even been ugly incidents of fights breaking out during the meetings of committees between various political factions, effectively desecrating holy places with their unholy actions. Another angle to this political tension is the overwhelming caste based control of the SGPC and the often complained about marginalization of the Mazhabdhari Sikhs, many of whom cannot even dare to raise questions about state of affairs for fear of casteist retribution, particularly in Punjab.
Two key takeaways that the Hindu community could very well benefit from in this exercise of learning are the setting up of tribunals exclusively belonging to the Hindu traditions as well as the defining of the scope of activities that temple money can be spent on in a concrete manner. Focused judicial tribunals can be critical, as most of the times there are no legal avenues except the higher judiciary that are available to the community if they wish to seek redress. Such cases take years to deliver justice, and often are subject to personal biases of judges as well. A community based tribunal representing all sections of Hindu society can be constituted, comprising of eminent legal eagles, who can hear the cases and adjudicate, and the higher judiciary be approached only after that. Additionally, amendments can be sought immediately in all temple control statutes across the country to precisely define that scope of expenditure of the temple revenues and assets, with primacy being given to the rituals, maintenance and upkeep followed by charitable functions excluding political funding, and governments should be given only the tax money as perhaps a necessary evil. Where existing, such defined ceilings need to be immediately revised. People must also be able to ask for the removal of errant executives wherever possible without going through legal hoops to remedy the wrongs going on with respect to temple asset management.



A major point that we often overlook is that in the current legal framework of India, our religious institutions will need some measure of legal recognition, even if different from the current nature. The SGPC model clearly identifies what a Sikh gurdwara is, which enables the necessary legal actions that can then be enabled through suitable legislations. It also helps during matters of legal recourse with the higher judiciary should the judicial commission fail to satisfy the aggrieved. Moreover, legal recognition is necessary to demand and provide the necessary safety measures against property theft, encroachment, and appropriation. A classic example of the problems faced by lack of recognition of temple properties can be seen in Jammu and Kashmir, where the Temples and Shrines Bill has been hanging fire for decades now despite private assurances across all party lines. This lack of legal recognition has allowed encroachers and nefarious elements to particularly target the abandoned temples in the Kashmir Valley which were abandoned by the Pandits during the 1990 exodus, and in many cases the state judiciary does not have any grounding on which it can then issue the necessary remedial measures.


Hindus must also lobby for the changing of the administrative boards of all temples. Temples should be governed only by practising Hindus, who can be appointed if necessary by the government if necessary, comprising of nominees from the various sansthas, mathas and reform movements. The process should however be forced to move towards the inclusion of directly elected members into the overall governing board, who are not members of legislature; instead, they have been elected in a parallel election which may be simultaneously held with state assembly elections. The aim should be that the government nominees are always in a minority, and that the rainbow spread of the Hindu community representing the various jatis who are dependent on the temples for both their livelihoods as well as spiritual nourishment can be included. For instance, members of the traditional flower picking communities and artisan communities can be given special representation and/or reserved seats in a universal suffrage system. To this extent, the Election Commission of the state can be asked to supervise the appointment and administration of a special division within themselves, say a Dharmasthala Election Commission, which focuses solely on this process.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reforming Temple Administration in India Part I - Lessons from the Akali Movement

Akali Jatha (Courtesy: http://manvirsingh.blogspot.in)
There is a lot of discussion these days with respect to the way Hindu temples are being administered across the country. While there is a lot of debate on how the temples are being managed in the current form, and there are efforts going on through legal means to create greater accountability and transparency in the systems, it is important to also propose alternatives to the current administration frameworks, which completely leave out local communities from the well-being and care-take of the temple management affairs, leaving them to be open fields that breed rampant corruption and avenues for belittling the Dharmic faith. In this regard, efforts are now needed to explore possible alternatives to the status quo. In this multi part series, I shall try to examine the merits and demerits of models of administration that are visible across India among different communities, in order to obtain positive lessons that Hindus need to implement and advocate. The attempt is not to replicate any one, for every community internally does see contradictions and weaknesses of the administration of their places of worship; however, it does make sense to have a starting point of discussion and deliberation within the Dharmic fold on how greater public accountability can be brought about.

From a vantage point, it can be no one’s case today that Sikh gurdwaras are a good model of administration that involve the community to the greatest extent in the daily affairs of management and upkeep, while also driving the large scale philanthrophic activities in the fields of healthcare, education and even livelihoods and housing in certain cases. However, people do not pay enough attention to the causes underlying these. In this part, I shall bring to light briefly the history of the reform movement, with a focus on the Akali movement, and highlight the lessons to be learnt from the history of the eventual formation of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The attempt here is to identify the fact that the movement to free temples has to be a multi-step movement, which shall be delved into in the latter part.

BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GURDWARA REFORM MOVEMENT

The first signs of Gurdwara reform emerged in 1905. The Gurdwaras had effectively gone under the control of the British government, aided by the Mahants who controlled these places of worship. Khalsa Diwan and Singh Sabhas were the first phase of the reform movement, wherein effort were being undertaken by a moderate leadership within the Sikh community that undertook setting up new institutions such as Khalsa colleges and Singh Sabha Gurdwaras. However, the general perception of the moderates of the time across various social and political movements was that of being pro-British, which got reinforced after the Khalsa College Amritsar episode, wherein the administration was forcefully changed to appease British demands. The move towards involving the Panth or the larger community came in 1906, whenr esolutions were passed in Khalsa Diwan sessions to to that effect, asking for managers appointed as per the community’s wish for governing the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple). The community also found it difficult to seek legal recourse in cases of rampant corruption and blatant misuse against the Punjab government backed Mahants as the fees for jurisdictions were often found prohibitive.

However, with repeated petitions, particularly from the retired army soliders of Sikh regiments who constituted the reform movements, the British government started to fear that the Sikhs, ‘the most loyal community’, may go against them, given the heating up of India’s political climate. Hence, in 1920, in the face of the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Charitable and Religious Endowments Act (Act XIV, 1920) was passed. Under this act, some nominal rights were handed to the community, the beneficiaries of the act, in the control and management of the temples; however, the act was designed with malafide intentions so as to ensure that power still remained with the Mahants as consensus clauses were invoked everywhere. This eventually gave birth to the Akali movement, whereby they offered non-cooperation through Akali Jathas that were formed by the ‘extremists’ of the Central Sikh League. This movement of extremists was divided into two aspects - the SGPC and the SAD, wherein SAD offered the political non-cooperation as it led the Jathas to free Gurdwaras. The The demands of the Akalis were four fold: bringing gurdwaras under Panth’s control; removal of mahants; utilizing the incomes and properties of the gurdwaras effectively and correctly; and practising the faith as said in the Adi Granth. The movement, which started off with its successful campaign at the Babe-Di-Ber Gurdwara, saw Mahants of many smaller temples falling in line in the face of the increasing swell of Sikh community support; however, the Nankana Sahib and Harmandir Sahib Mahants offered stiff resistance, even leading to bloodbath on one occasion. The 1920 Act at this time was instituted among the calls so that gurdwaras could be placed ”…in the hands of a representative body of Sikhs constituted on an elective basis and responsible for its actions to the Panth at large.” A provisional committee was set up for the Harmandir Sahib, Akal Takht, and nearby gurdwaras, comprising of 36 members, and included Kings of Phoolkian States and the Mahants among others. However, the Akalis defied it by creating a body subsuming it within the SGPC, and increasing the members to 175 to outnumber all British loyalists. This happened during the months of October and December of 1920, when there had been a major bloodbath over the control of the Nankana Sahib because of the Mahant’s hired goons, while SGPC elections took place amidst an attendance of 10,000 Sikh members.

1921 saw further political action, wherein an ordinance was passed to create a Judicial Commission to redress all disputes on gurdwara control and expedite the transfer of properties from Mahants to the actual gurdwaras, even as the government deliberately refused to recognize the SGPC. The first draft of Gurdwaras and Shrines Bill was introduced in 1921. AS the bill collapsed, 1922 saw further attempts at a second draft that was willing to concede more space on the overall governing board to the community, which SGPC and SAD did not agree to, leading to another draft falling through. William M Hailey, the Commissioner of Punjab at that time, tried to break the Akali movement and challenged the Akalis to present an alternative. The Akalis then sought help of Madan Mohan Malaviya and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who drafted the 1925 Bill, but this bill was conveniently ignored by Hailey. It was then that Malaviya decided to introduce the same bill in the Central legislature at the time, on the gruonds that there were gurdwaras across India that needed to be brought under Panthic control. With this checkmate, Hailey eventually relented and the Malaviya Bill was passed in 1925, through which SGPC got recognition.

KEY POLITICAL LESSONS OF THE AKALI MOVEMENT

The Akali movement has several lessons for the Hindus to consider seriously when it comes to temple reform. The current initiative for temple reform bears striking similarities with the way British backed Mahants were working in Punjab’s gurdwaras, much to the consternation of the Sikh community, and saw similar levels of rampant corruption and looting of the institutional resources. However, one has to realize that the success of the Akali movement, despite several earlier levels of reform, can be seen to be a result of serious of actions - voluntary, forced and otherwise - that were necessitated. For instance, the grounds up movement within the Sikh community provided the backbone and strength to get this done, and it remained non-violent to the end, which also helped it gain sympathy across the nation. Clearly, the message has to go the masses to make the movement effective.

Another critical aspect of the movement was the formation of a management committee that could overlook affairs of the Harmandir Sahib and other gurdwaras in the area, whose members are voted in by the community at large, thus providing an alternative to the British backed Mahants who were in control. Such a committee can be practically impossible for the country as a whole, given the diverse traditions of agama, puja, pratyahara etc; however, local level committees are entirely possible, which can include members of administration but have members directly elected to the temple governing body in significant numbers like local body elections for a fixed term.

One major initiative that founded the seeds for the birth of the Akalis was the Khalsa Diwan and Singh Sabha initiatives. Such initiatives are currently impossible under the present educational and rights based dispensation, given the disaster of RTE as well as the minority-ism of institutions. To that end, the ability of the community to create relevant avenues of discussion, discourse and consensus building is significantly impaired. The trusts running modern temples therefore will have to take a lead in providing the necessary support to this movement of administrative control. Also, while schools are not a possibility right now, colleges and university systems can certainly be created in order to build the case of an independent machinery that can openly criticize the administrative controls. Some Hindu saints have already started the same, but the community at large also needs to rally in numbers to set up such systems.

One of the measures that had expedited the transfer of management to SGPC was the Judicial Commission that overlooked the disputes. Such tribunals are necessitated today, given the burden on the courts. However, there has to be an overall greater engagement with the judicial system in order to demonstrate the problems of the current temple administrations and the concerns of the Hindu community. At a legislative level, members of state legislative assemblies and Parliament must be convinced towards the urgency of reforms, and assisted with the necessary informational and legal aid where necessary, so that private member bills can be passed to get the temples out of the deathly grips of the government and its corrupt officers. This is necessary since there will be significant attempts to poison such efforts, and needs continuous checkmating.

Another major lesson that one can see is that political capital is precious and need not be wasted on issues that do not directly concern the community just because it becomes a matter of prestige. In a personal capacity, the SAD and SGPC’s involvement in the Nabha affair was unnecessary, causing much goodwill to be lost in playing games with the Patiala state. While it had become a matter of pride, this had led to the delay of the key reforms needed by at least a year. Such moves can prove to be suicidal for the Hindu community, and hence any distraction of the kinds we are seeing today are totally unwarranted and unnecessary.

Thus, we have seen how the Akali movement arose from its initial roots of reformers in the 1900s towards becoming a full fledged force that eventually freed the gurdwaras in Punjab from the British control. In the next part, we shall examine the present management of gurdwaras across India, and see the administrative and legal machinations in order to understand it better.



REFERENCE READING
The Akali Movement, Mohinder Singh, 1997 edition
Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines, Ruchi Ram Sahni, 1974
The Gurdwara Reform Movement and the Sikh Awakening, Teja Singh, 1922, Lahore






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