The Madras High Court has restrained the State government and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department from forcing 20 financially stable temples to spare ₹10 crore from their surplus funds for the renovation of 1,000 village temples spread across the State.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and R. Hemalatha made absolute an interim order of status quo granted by another Bench, led by Justice M.M. Sundresh, on July 27. The interim order was granted following a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Rangarajan Narasimhan of Srirangam.
Subsequently, when the case was listed along with a batch of other similar cases filed by T.R. Ramesh of the Indic Collective Trust and others, the Bench led by Justice Sathyanarayanan took serious note of the petitioners’ complaints that many temple lands in the State had been sold for throwaway prices.
“Though it is submitted by the learned Government Advocate (HR&CE) that a counter affidavit has been filed, this court is of the considered view that a satisfactory explanation has not been put forth,” the Division Bench observed, and stated that a proper explanation should be provided by December 1.
The judges also warned that they would have no other option but to direct the HR&CE Department Secretary and Commissioner to personally assist the court whenever the hearing of the batch of cases take place, and if the counsel representing the department does not provide a satisfactory explanation.
In his affidavit, Mr. Narasimhan had pointed out that Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had made an announcement in the Legislative Assembly on March 24 for providing ₹10 crore to renovate 1,000 financially unstable village temples under the control of the HR&CE Department.
Subsequently, the HR&CE Commissioner forwarded a proposal to the government to pool in the money from surplus funds of financially stable temples. The proposal was accepted and a Government Order was issued on May 15. It was followed by the HR&CE Commissioner’s June 26 proceedings for using about ₹25 lakh to 1 crore from the surplus funds of 20 temples.
Questioning such a directive issued by the HR&CE Commissioner, the petitioner said the HR&CE Act empowered the Department to only have supervisory control over the temples which should otherwise be managed by their individual board of trustees. Any decision on parting with surplus funds should emanate from the temple management, he said.
Other litigants before the court accused the HR&CE Department of mismanaging the properties and funds of various temples in the State.