A state archaeological expert was arrested for demanding bribes to process and issue an inspection report to carry out renovation of a temple in Tamil Nadu. She was appointed as a member of the expert committee formed by HRCE to inspect temples and give permission for renovation works. She demanded a bribe of Rs 10 lakh to issue the inspection report which is a must to start temple renovation works.
Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board has formed a committee of archeological experts to inspect temples and approve applications for renovation of temples in the state. It was formed with the motive to protect ancient temples and guide temple managements in carrying out renovation works without damaging/destroying the structure and inscriptions of centuries old temples.
But it appears that this committee has been exhorting people who reach out to them to get permission for temple renovation. Pichumani Iyengar, the hereditary executive trustee of the Prasanna Venkatachalapathy temple in Gunaseelam, Trichy approached the committee seeking permission to renovate the temple. Moortheeswari, an ‘archaeological expert’ appointed by the HRCE, inspected the temple in June 2022.
But the temple committee didn’t receive any inspection report. When they reached out to the ‘expert’ she visited the temple again in September and said that the report will be given only if they pay a bribe of Rs 10 lakh. Later she demanded that at least Rs 5 lakh should be paid with Rs 1 lakh as advance to issue the report. Pichumani lodged a complaint with the Trichy unit of Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC).
DVAC officials laid a trap for Moortheeswari and arrested her as she accepted the bribe of Rs 1 lakh as token advance. Officials found Rs 5 lakh unaccounted cash in her car and seized that as well. She has been booked under Section 7 (a) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and sent for remand. DVAC investigation revealed the possibility of ‘expert’ members of the committee demanding bribes to issue inspection reports to many temples in the state delaying their renovation.
The expert committee appointed by HRCE has 12 members and one cannot help but suspect that the other ‘experts’ could also be harassing Hindus who take up renovation works. Karthik Gopinath, an individual who collected funds for a temple vandalised by a ‘mentally unstable’ man was arrested by the DMK government. HRCE claimed that the concerned temple comes under its purview and individuals cannot collect money in its name.