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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Madras HC slams HRCE for colluding with individuals in illegally occupying temple properties

Madras High Court expressed its displeasure over TNHRCE officials’ negligent attitude in dealing with temple properties. It observed that officials appear to be colluding with the individuals who use temple properties and allow corruption.

LiveLaw reported that while dealing with a case of occupying a property of Maahaliamman temple in Coimbatore, the court slammed the HRCE officials for not acting in the interest of the temples and devotees. Having leased the property in 1960, the individual continued to use it without paying the raised rent amount for 55 years even after the contract ended in 1965. When the HRCE department sent a notice of eviction, the individual went to court contesting that he was not informed of the hike and that his position as the leaseholder is valid.

He pleaded that as he had paid the arrears he should be allowed to continue to use the property. However the court observed that “mere payment of arrears of rent would not confer any right to claim leasehold rights“. If the lessee wants to continue the contract, HRCE commissioner has to approve the extension. But no documents to that effect were found. So concluding the contention as invalid the court dismissed the petition.

While doing so the court slammed the HRCE officials of colluding with the individuals in misusing temple properties and accused them of corruption. Expressing dissatisfaction over the negligence of authorities, the court reminded them of its role as the “custodian of the minor deity”. 

Observing that when it comes to temple properties, in numerous cases, lessees are in possession of the properties without any legal standing, the court directed the HRCE department to initiate proceedings to lease them through Open Public Auction. It said “The High Court has to interfere in such circumstances even in the absence of initiation of action by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department in certain circumstances or inaction by the Authorities due to the active or passive collusion with the Private Parties“.

There have been many cases of temple properties being occupied illegally both by Hindus and non-Hindus without paying rent. In Ramanathapuram and Thanjavur temple properties worth hundreds of crores were encroached by Muslims with HRCE officials turning a blind eye even after court interference. Many other temple properties are encroached by missionaries as well and in one case a corrupt HRCE official willfully gave away temple land to build a church.

In one case the government itself had tried to distribute temple land to people for free through the revenue department. The fact that Srirangam Ranganatha swamy temple which had 330 acre land in 1886 now only has 24 acre should make Hindus understand the gravity of the issue.

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