The Tamil Nadu Government’s long-drawn effort to acquire the temple lands to allegedly hand it over to the squatters has been impeded. In fact, the DMK in its 2016 election manifesto had also promised to hand over temple lands to the squatters.
Portions of the temple land in Tamil Nadu, whose worth runs in thousands of crores, will continue to remain in God’s possession after the Madras High Court on Friday stayed the operation of a government order, which was issued by the Revenue Department on August 30.
The August 30 controversial government order proposed to cede the encroached pieces of temple land to the illegal squatters. The Tamil Nadu government had proposed to 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.
Interestingly, the Tamil Nadu government has been 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.
Meanwhile, staying a part of the August 30 GO and seeking details about the number of encroachers, the division bench comprising Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice N Seshasayee, directed the government to spell out measures that would be adopted by the state government to implement its order without having any details on the encroachments of the 44,000-odd temple lands in Tamil Nadu.
Justices M Sathyanarayanan and N Seshasayee said although the GO had been issued “with an avowed objective of providing housing facilities to homeless encroachers of lands belonging to the government, local bodies and temples, an attempt to regularise encroachers and sanctify encroachments were more likely to denude temples of their properties.”
Authoring the interim order, Justice Seshasayee said: “Any act that involves loss of properties of a temple for purposes other than those intended for the benefit or necessity of the temple, may well contravene the spirit behind Section 34 of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1959 (which permits sale of temple properties if it turns out to be beneficial).”
During the hearing in the Madras HC, the judges wondered if the AIADMK government would fix a price for all the temple lands that it plans to acquire before it hands them over to the encroachers.
The state government has, however, been trying to wriggle out of this tight corner by saying that their order is not a blanket order and the allocation would be done on a case-by-case basis. It said its order was aimed at providing lands for ‘eligible’ poor families that were residing on temple lands.
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.
However, despite the High Court observations, the Tamil Nadu government, who has been hellbent on giving away thousands of acres of Temple land to illegal squatters had reiterated its position in October 2019 to issue pattas to people squatting illegally on temple land.
It 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 reports, temples in Tamil Nadu own close to six lakh acres and three lakh square feet of property. In the last five years, at least 50,000 acres have been swallowed by illegal encroachers. Besides their lands and properties, temples in Tamil Nadu have also been stripped of their valuable idols.
Recently, the Hindu devotees had put up a massive protest in Tirupur after local AIADMK MLA S Gunasekaran organised a public hearing with the illegal squatters who had bought temple lands.