Karnataka High Court issues notice in a plea seeking financial assistance for Archakas and Temple Servants amid COVID-19 Lockdown

By- Akshay Gurnani

Inter alia, the petitioner points out that Archakas and temple servants of ‘C’ Category temples are almost entirely dependent on ‘Dakshina’ given by the devotees visiting temples, which remain closed during the lockdown. The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday issued a notice in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking monetary relief for Archakas and temple servants amid the COVID-19 Lockdown.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice K N Phaneendra issued a notice in a plea filed by Advocate Shreehari Kutsa and KSN Dikshit, an archak from Bengaluru.

While issuing notice, it is reported that the Bench orally observed that the government will have to consider giving some monetary relief to archaks and temple servants in the category ‘C’ temples as the temples are likely to remain closed for some more time due to the lockdown.

In the petition filed on the issue, it was submitted that the Archakas and Temple Servants in notified Hindu temples are managed by the Government of Karnataka, through the Karnataka Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HRCE) under the provisions of Karnataka Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act (KHRCE Act).

It was further stated that HRCE had notified 35,500 temples in the state of Karnataka, which is categorized into ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ for administrative purposes. In all these temples, it is the Archakas who are responsible for the day-to-day preservation, running, and upkeep of the religious institution.

It is the petitioners’ contention that while HRCE provides a salary to the Archakas and temple servants belonging to Category ‘A’ and Category ‘B’ Temples, no salary or emolument is being paid to the Archakas and temple servants in most of the temples that fall under ‘C’ Category.

This is a clear violation of the clear provisions of Section 12 of the KHRCE Act read with Rule 8(3) of the KHRCE Rules, it is contended.

Further, it was stated that the only support given by the State Department is the provision of Rs.48,000 per annum to the ‘C’ category temples and that it is expected under the law that the Archaka of each respective temple performs his duty out of the Rs.48,000 per annum i.e. Rs.4,000 per month or Rs.131 per day.

The petition further states, “The Respondent has fixed the sum of Rs.48,000/- irrespective of the actual number of Archakas or temple servants the temple employs, irrespective of the area/size of lands owned, irrespective of the size of the temple, irrespective of rituals and traditions involved in each temple and without any regard to a host of other attendant facts surrounding each separate temple.”

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Owing to these reasons, Archakas and temple servants of ‘C’ Category temples are almost entirely dependent on the ‘Dakshina’ (tatte-kāsu or token offerings in Aarti plate) that is given by the devotees as a matter of their belief and to help the poor Archakas.

The Archakas of the ‘C’ Category temples are thus left on a hand-to-mouth situation without the requisite support from the Government, the plea highlights.

Further, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Archakas of the ‘C’ Grade temples being deprived of even the Dakshina/offering by devotees, the petition points out. It is highlighted that,

“(The) Occupation of Temple Worship thus takes a hit as Archakatva is a financially challenging occupation and only the hereditary Archakas are carrying on the same to keep the family tradition. The Respondents have remained apathetic to the case of the temples as well as its Archakas and temple servants from the very beginning. Their demand for payment of at least a fixed salary at par with the daily wage fixed by the Central Government is yet to see the light of the day.”

The petitioners that the department’s inaction on the issue is a violation of Articles 14, 19 (1) (g), 21, and 25 of the Constitution. The petition also submits that,

“The Karnataka HRCE Department, having undertaken the management of Temples, has a statutory duty towards ensuring subsistence of the notified temples and consequently a responsibility towards the Archakas and temple servants”.

On these grounds, the petitioner has prayed that the Court directs the State Department to provide Archakas and temple servants the salary due to them under the provisions of Section 12 and Section 15 of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997.