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Despite being reprimanded by Madras HC, Tamil Nadu government set on giving away temple land to illegal squatters

In September 2019, the Madras High Court had slammed the Tamil Nadu government for its decision to give away temple lands. "Technically, the state is trying to help encroachers by making the encroachments legal", a division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice N Seshasayee had said.

The Tamil Nadu government is determined to give away thousands of acres of Temple land to illegal squatters. The Madras High Court had warned earlier that the Tamil Nadu government is helping illegal squatters and come down heavily on th govt, however, despite the High Court observations, the Tamil Nadu government has reiterated its position to issue pattas to people squatting illegally on temple land.

The Tamil Nadu government had filed a counter-affidavit in High Court that categorically states that the Tamil Nadu government has decided to give patta to illegal squatters on Temple lands. According to the affidavit, the govt will give patta to the poor families who have been squatting on temple lands for a ‘considerable period of time’ after compensating the department for the land.

“It is not a blanket order and the encroachments in the temple lands will be taken up temple-wise, based on the availability of temple land and after getting concurrence of the Hindu religious and charitable endowments department,” the state said through a counter filed by S Anandhan, deputy secretary, revenue department, according to a report in Times of India.

Interestingly, here the Tamil Nadu government seems to be saying that the govt would compensate a department of the govt before giving away Temple land to squatters, while not even considering the temple itself as a stakeholder.

Read: Church in Thanjavur prevents residents of Nirmala Nagar from constructing a Ganesha temple on community land

The Tamil Nadu government, though has said that the poor squatters will be given a patta, it has not yet outlined the criteria it will apply to grant patta to the illegal squatters.

Furthering the rationale of the government compensating itself for giving away temple land, the affidavit has reportedly further said, in respect of such encroachments of temple lands necessary action will be taken to purchase the land from the department for which proposals would be sent to the government from temple-wise through HR and CE commissioner.

The Tamil Nadu government has conveniently asserted that the HR and CE commissioner will decide on a case to case basis having regard to the parameters in the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act. However, they have refused to give any specific parameters thereby giving unbridled power to the government itself to give away temple land.

The affidavit also cited a November 2018 order that said that according to the order, temple lands are permitted to be sold for public purposes to government departments and public-sector undertakings. Accordingly, temple lands encroached by poor for the residential purpose would be considered for purchase by the revenue department for grant of house-patta for eligible poor families.

Read: Madurai: Villagers protest against the proposed government takeover of three ancient temples

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this entire affidavit is that the Tamil Nadu government will possess the absolute power to decide which temple land should be given away to squatters, while the Tamil Nadu govt compensates itself for the land, without even considering the Temple itself as a stakeholder in the decision making process.

In September 2019, the Madras High Court had slammed the Tamil Nadu government for its decision to give away temple lands. “Technically, the state is trying to help encroachers by making the encroachments legal”, a division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice N Seshasayee had said.

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