Criminals and anti-social elements in the garb of mahants and saints have grabbed precious temple lands all over Bihar and repeated attempts by the government to remove them have failed, according to Bihar land reforms and revenue minister Madan Mohan Jha.
This was stated by Jha last week while replying to a question raised by former BJP state president, Mangal Pandey in the Bihar Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council).
Highlighting the helplessness of the state government in getting the illegal occupants of temples evicted, Jha stated that the state government had sent letters to the district magistrates, sub-divisional magistrates and circle officers to remove unauthorised occupants from the temple land, but the officials have failed in doing so.
According to Patna based officials, many “mahants” and self declared saints, backed by local criminals, were into the business of land grabbing in the state, including in the state’s capital Patna.
In many cases, these land grabbers use the modus operandi of building a temple on the encroached land and installing a “pujari” so that it becomes difficult for the real owner of the land to evict them since a fully functional temple is in place on the encroached land.
In many cases, the members of the temple trusts themselves connive with the land grabbers.
As per the data shared by the state government, the Bihar State Religious Trust board has identified existence of 8,722 temples in the state, out of which only 3,389 have been registered with the trust, while the rest 5,333 are unregistered. As per the officials, the lands in these temples are registered in the names of different Hindu deities as per the donation made by philanthropists.
The officials said that in many cases the members of the temple trusts themselves connive with the land grabbers and do not make any complaints to the board. “It has become a business. Encroaching land and building a temple on it and installing a priest. In many cases ancient temples too have been occupied by land grabbers and they are now multi-millionaire because of the value of the land on which the temple is built,” an official who is familiar with the matter said.
According to him, there were more that 8,000 temples in the state. “The figure for Patna (temples in Patna) will be more than 3000-4000, so you can imagine that how many temples are in Bihar,” the official said.
In most cases, as the land on which the temples are built are not recognised as public property, government officials face legal problems in getting them freed under the Public Premises Eviction Act, 1971.