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Now Naidu Eyes Temple Lands

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source: Hindustan Times, July 7,2003

The temple of Lord Venakateswara at Tirupati is lucky. The Andhra Pradesh government has finally backed off from its demand for Rs 36 crore from this cash- rich shrine, in the wake of public outcry and a litigation in the high court.

However, lesser known temples are not so lucky. The government has initiated moves to take away temple lands and distribute them among poorer sections in the name of social justice. According to endowment department sources, around 80 per cent of the 27,000-odd temples have no income other than what they get from the vested lands. And once the lands are taken away, puja in many temples will have to be stopped.

The decision to acquire endowment lands was prompted after district collectors reported the unavailability of adequate government land and secondly because of litigation involving available lands. The government fixed a target of 8 lakh house site pattas this year, after Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu made the announcement at the TDP’s Tirupati meet.

Revenue officials said, the state needs around 40,000 acres to meet the target and by tapping endowment properties the state could meet only one third of the requirement. 3,000 acres of land have been identified for acquisition.

TDP leaders defend the government’s stand. “The lands are under the temples’ control for namesake only. The people cultivating them are giving little or nothing. At least this way, it will serve a better cause,” said a TDP member.

Opposition parties have assailed the move. "The endowment lands come free as government-appointed officials control the temples and few would dare to challenge the order," said a BJP leader.

Endowment records show the government acquired temple lands several times in the past for bus stands, police stations, government offices, hospitals, power stations etc. It was yet to reimburse Rs 28 crores to the endowment department towards the value of the acquired land.

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