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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Court restrains DMK government from opening colleges using temple money

The Madras High Court has restrained the DMK government in Tamil Nadu from establishing new colleges using temple money. TNHRCE had planned to establish 10 new colleges using temple money on temple lands. After activists took the matter to court, the judiciary restrained the government from building new colleges in light of violations of the HRCE Act in the process.

T.R.Ramesh, a temple activist, had filed a PIL on behalf of the Indic Collective Trust and Temple Worshippers Society against the government’s decision. The PIL had questioned the validity of the move citing the fact that many temples under HRCE don’t even have trustees to make the decision on the usage of temple money. Many temples do not have trustees but fit persons(HRCE officials) appointed by HRCE in their stead.

While these fit persons can be appointed only as an interim measure they have been enjoying the post for many years as HRCE hasn’t taken any measures in the last 10 years to fill the position. This empowers the government to decide on how, where and what to spend temple money on. Pointing out the fact that only now has the government started the process of appointing trustees, the court said that “the ‘voluntary’ aspect of the transfer of funds is robbed if the transfer is at the behest of a fit person who is appointed by the HR&CE Commissioner or the government.”

Observing that “transfer of funds would be a much larger policy decision that a fit person ought not to take”, the court said that the funds cannot be used to open colleges. The court also noted that the already opened 4 colleges only teach the regular courses and not anything concerning Hindu dharma. It also warned HRCE that if regular religious courses are not introduced in them the colleges will not be allowed to continue their function. It gave one month time for these colleges to introduce a stream of religious instructions on Hindu dharma.

The judges took into account the petitioner’s argument that the temple money transferred to the Common Goods Fund can be used only when the needs of the low income temple are satisfied. As per Live Law they observed that the money belonging to a religious denomination cannot be treated as “secular money” and used for a secular purpose. 

The atheist DMK government in TN has been meddling with temple funds to try and realise their ambitions through decisions to melt temple jewellery, build shopping complex on temple lands, establishing colleges using temple money etc. While it claimed that the colleges are set up with a vision to generate a steady revenue stream for the temples, it later announced that the education will be free this year. After the notification for the college staff that mandated “Hindu only” candidates, Dravidianists has demanded that non-Hindus be given opportunity as they are not religious institutions.

The gold monetisation scheme met with severe opposition and through a PIL filed in the Madras HC the attempt has been stalled for now. While hearing the PIL the court had directed the government to appoint trustees as temple properties, valuables, etc cannot be disposed of without trustees’ permission as per the HRCE Act. The government has started appointing trustees but there have been allegations that DMK men are appointed in these posts to make it easy for the government to continue to meddle in and disturb temple affairs.

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