The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department has filed an affidavit at the Madras High Court saying that though the state of Tamil Nadu is secular, it is entitled to control temples. The departments said that under Article 25(2) of the Constitution, the state could regulate or restrict any economic, financial, political, or other secular activity linked to religious practice.
Affidavit in reply to the petition by Indic Collective Trust
In the first week of August 2020, Indic Collective Trust and its president T.R. Ramesh filed a petition in the Madras High Court against the HR&CE Minister and Commissioner stating misuse of temple vehicles and funds. The petition was attached to another case filed by Rangarajan Narasimhan, who has accused the state government of ordering 20 rich temples of the state to pay Rs.10 crore surplus funds. The Tamil Nadu government said that the funds were to be used for renovating 10,000 village temples. The court had put a stay on order.
Tamil Nadu govt and Temples: The state is doing what kings did
In the counter-affidavit filed in front of a Division Bench of Justice M.M. Sundresh and Justice R. Hemalatha, the HR&CE Department said that majority of the famous temples in the state were constructed by kings. They also gave acres of land and other properties to those temples. The kings used to appoint officials to manage the temples. The government is doing the same via the HR&CE Department.
The department in its affidavit said that the HR&CE Act of 1959 was approved by the then-President on 19th November 1959, and it was preceded by a 1951 Act that was upheld by the Supreme Court of India in 1954. The petitioners are attempting to tarnish the image of the department to relive temples from the government’s control.
Government vehicles not fit for the road
Answering the charges of using temple vehicles for the department’s use, the affidavit said that the state government allotted vehicles long back to the department no longer fit for the road. The department uses the temple vehicles until the state government alot money to buy new vehicles. It emphasized that the vehicles and the drivers were only being used for official purposes. The petitioner had alleged in the petition that the vehicles were being used for personal use.
Alleged exaggeration of misuse of temple funds
The department said that temple funds that were collected under the pretext of darshan, Abhishegam, Archanai, Urchavam, etc. stay with the temple and not controlled by the department or the state government. It added that the department controls 38,449 religious institutes, including 57 mutts, 57 temples attached to mutts, 1,721 specific endowments, 3,479 temples with hereditary trustees, and 16,783 temples with temporary appointees.
The temples under the administration of temporary appointees are till the time trustees are appointed as per the regulations. The petition stated that there are 19,000 temples under the administration of the government-appointed ‘fit person’ since 2011. In the counter-affidavit, the department said that the petitioners had exaggerated the amount used for refreshments during review meetings chaired by the HR&CE Minister, Secretary, and Commissioner.
Television channel ‘Tirukovil’
In June 2020, the state government announced that it would launch a television channel to broadcast special festivals and pujas at famous temples of Tamil Nadu. In the petition, it was alleged that the temple funds are being used to start the channel. The department, in its reply, said that the channel is still in the proposal stage. The state government has not taken any final decision. It said that the proposed channel is only to propagate the Hindu religion.
The court has set 25th September for the next hearing in the case.