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GANDHINAGAR, INDIA, August 11, 2001: The BJP-ruled Gujarat Government will soon pay monthly salaries to priests of Hindu temples in the State. In the first phase, one priest of the 354 Government-controlled "devasthans" temples would be entitled to a monthly salary of US$21.74 from September. When queried why Hindu priests were singled out for this provision, Minister of State for Home Haren Pandya who holds charge of pilgrimage development and cow protection told the Hindustan Times that priests of other religions in any case get paid either from the Waqf Board or trusts managing the place of worship. "It is to give justice to the feelings of the Hindu society that salaries are being paid to them," the minister said. The minister, however, clarified that before paying the salaries some aspects like the priests, antecedents, the managing committee's activities, the "aarti" and "darshan" timings followed, the temple's income-expense position would be ascertained. The State government had recently introduced a group insurance cover of $2,174 for pilgrims from the State going to the Amarnath shrine. The insurance scheme, for which the bulk premium has been paid by the the government, insures the pilgrims against accidents, terrorist strikes and natural calamities. A budgetary provision has also been made to pay a subsidy of $435 for every pilgrim joining the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra. The government also proposes to ban sale of non-vegetarian food in the periphery of temple towns like Somnath, Dwaraka, Ambaji and Dakor, Pandya added.