In a significant observation, the Madras High Court on Wednesday said that the state government cannot use temple land for any purpose other than for holding religious functions.
The Madras High Court, responding to grievances raised by devotees regarding the alienation of temple land of two temples in Tamil Nadu, emphasised that temple land can be utilised only for the beneficial purposes of the temple.
The High Court also observed that temples in Tamil Nadu are not only a source of identification of the ancient culture but also a testimony of pride and knowledge of the talent in the fields of arts, science and sculpture. The court also directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to identify and protect all temple lands from encroachers with an officer in charge filing periodical reports.
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department is one of the departments of the Government of Tamil Nadu that is responsible for managing and regulating the temple administration within the state.
The High Court order came at the backdrop several petitions filed by aggrieved devotees against the encroachment of lands of the Sakthi Muthamman temple near Neelankarai and the Kottai Mariamman temple in Salem. The petitions were filed after the Fisheries Department of the state developed a modern fish market, fish eatery and office building on some of the land belonging to the Sakthi Mathamman Temple. The department had done this disregarding the objections made by devotees.
Similarly, some land belonging to the Arulmighu Kottai Mariamman Thirukoil was transferred to the Regional Transport Department without following due procedure. Some of the temple’s land was also taken over by the Highways Department to construct a bridge.
Religious institutions should be maintained properly, HR&CE failed to take any steps: Madras HC
In his order, Justice R Mahadevan directed that the properties of religious institutions, particularly temples, have to be maintained properly. He added, however, the HR&CE Department, which is the custodian of the temple properties, failed to take any steps to protect the interests of temples, though the subject falls within its purview. Such a callous attitude on their part cannot be countenanced, the court slammed the Government of Tamil Nadu.
The Madras HC, ordering the removal of encroachments from temple lands, also asked the fisheries department that has constructed a building near Sri Sakthi Muthamman Temple in Neelankarai to enter into an agreement with the department to fix rent for the building.
Justice R Mahadevan also ordered the Commissioner, HR&CE Department to take action in reclaiming the lands by removing all the encroachments and maintain them.
“The HR&CE Department shall take steps to start construction by putting a compound wall to security and safety of the subject lands. Except for temple related purposes, the lands shall not be used for any other purposes. The officer authorised by the Commissioner, HR&CE Department shall maintain a proper register with respect to the financial aspects of the subject temples and its properties and file the same before the authority concerned at regular intervals,” the court said in its order.