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Public complaints against priests led to reforms: Dharmarth trust on ongoing crisis

Jammu and Kashmir Dharmarth Trust was founded by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1846. The Trust was made custodian of most Hindu temples across Jammu and Kashmir and since then, the work has been done by them with full commitment. The Trust manages more than 100 temples in J&K and not a few famous shrines and has around 300-400 employees on payroll.

Recent reforms introduced by the Dharmarth Trust led to major unrest amongst priests of major temples in Jammu. Several age old practices followed in temples were changed after decades with the intent to bring transparency and accountability in the system.

Several complaints were received by public regarding the rude behaviour of priests at Shri Raghunath Ji Temple complex for forcibly extracting donations so reformative steps were taken such as regular rotation of priests, installation of CCTV cameras for surveillance, appointment of security officer and administrator and strict disciplinary action against corrupt and dishonest employees.

Multiple issues came to the surface as coronavirus pandemic hit the country in the first week of March. The Centre government declared national lockdown on 21st March 2020 during which even places of worship were announced to be closed indefinitely. Despite lockdown, all the employees of the Dharmarth Trust received full salaries during the first three months of Covid-19.

Then in June 2020, the Dharmarth Trust announced the abolition of Thali system after receiving multiple public complaints regarding misappropriation of donation given to the priests. A new rule for the collection of donation was introduced in which public was encouraged to add donation to Dan Patras only. This corrective measure led to the agitation by priests. By now, no employees were terminated despite economic recession taking place across the globe.

In July 2020, the Dharmarth Trust management implemented 25% salary cut for employees earning more than Rs. 10,000 per month due to economic losses. Whereas the employees receiving less than Rs. 10,000 were exempted from this pay cut.

The Temples were finally opened to public in the month of August and in the following months, the management met with the aggrieved members of Dharmarth Trust Employees Association who apprised the management about their issues and demands.

Following a sympathetic approach towards their employees, the Trust revoked the policy of 25% pay cut in October and restored their full wages. Later, a series of unreasonable demands came to surface from October to November 2020 by a certain specific group of employees who started protesting and defaming the Trust with baseless allegations.

Sources told Jammu Links News that the agitation to malign the name of Dharmarth Trust is being run by some employees who were terminated around 15 years back for siphoning off the funds.

In November 2020, the Trust management suspended 5 employees for peddling their foul agenda despite receiving full salaries.

The demands raised by Employees Association includes creation of a separate Shrine Board for temples under the Trust or absorption by Shrine Board/Government. They have also demanded restoration of DA and Bonus. Several allegations against mis-management of funds, lands and properties by Trust management were also put forth in public domain.

The protesting employees have also refused to meet the members of the Trust for any further discussions.

The need for Trust intervention was fully realised after public complaints were received. Abolishing Thali system was the next major step to bring transparency in the functioning of Trust. The behaviour of priests was considered unjust which often led to abuse of their positions. As the reforms introduced by the Trust were not appreciated by employees so they recently entered Sri Ranbireshwar Temple and put up banners and posters defiling the temple and also misbehaved with the officials and trustees.The Trust has taken the matter quite seriously and warned the disgruntled employees of a strong legal action as their action amounts to criminal trespassing and intimidation which warrants according to law. 

Reforms are essential in ridding us of old evil practices and oftentimes foment a dissension but we should not overlook their importance in long-term smooth functioning of the system.



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Hardeep Bali