Rules against building offices, markets on temple properties
The Madras High Court criticised the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department for having failed to protect temple properties which were either encroached by private individuals or used by the government for other official purposes.
Justice R. Mahadevan said, “Such callous attitude on their part cannot be countenanced.”
He made the observation on Wednesday after ruling against the government’s move to construct a Regional Transport Office on lands in possession of Kottai Mariamman temple in Omalur taluk of Salem district for more than 80 years.
Passing common orders on a batch of cases, the judge also ruled against the move by the Fisheries Department to construct a modern fish market and fish eatery on lands in possession of Sakthi Muthamman temple at Neelankarai near Chennai for more than 70 years. The judge ordered that the temple lands should be protected and not alienated at all.
“This court has time and again 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 field of arts, science and sculpture and a conduit for spiritual activities as well,” he said.
“The properties of the religious institutions, more particularly the temples, have to be maintained properly in order to derive more income to spend for their betterment,” the judge said. He agreed with the petitioner’s counsel V.B.R. Menon, T. Kokilavane and B. Harikrishnan that the government had taken away the temple lands without HR&CE Department’s consent.
Justice Mahadevan recalled that the Supreme Court in A.A.Gopalakrishnan Vs Cochin Devaswom Board (2007) had impressed upon the need for the government, members or trustees of boards/trusts, and devotees to be vigilant and prevent usurpation or encroachment of properties belonging to religious institutions.
The apex court had also observed that courts were duty bound to protect and safeguard the properties of religious and charitable institutions from wrongful claims or misappropriation. However, in the present case, HR&CE Department had failed to protect the lands of the two temples in question, the judge lamented.
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