CHENNAI:Pointing out that statistics revealed that a few years ago there were 5.25 lakh acres belonging to temples/religious institutions in the State and only 4.78 lakh acres existed now and the remaining nearly 50,000 acres had been taken away by encroachers, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department to initiate appropriate steps to retrieve the properties.
Justice R Mahadevan issued the directive while disposing of a writ petition from P Lakshmanan to quash an order dated June 30, 2017 of the Assistant Commissioner (AC), HR&CE, Paramakudi, and direct him and Joint Commissioner at Sivaganga to take action against one U Muthu Chettiar and recover the temple lands from him.
The judge directed the AC to conduct within two weeks, an inquiry under Sec. 78 of HR&CE Act and take steps to recover the property from the purchasers, after giving opportunity to all the parties concerned. The HR&CE Commissioner should file a report specifying the details of temple lands in Tamil Nadu for which patta had been granted to third parties/encroachers within four weeks. The State revenue secretary should instruct all Tahsildars or District Revenue Officers to take steps within four weeks, to alter the patta granted to the beneficiaries of illegal transfer of land or possession and restore the name to the temple with further direction to refrain from issuing patta without getting written communication from HR&CE department.
The Commissioner should file a report within four weeks disclosing the lands, details of sanction granted by him for alienating the properties of the temples in the State either by way of sale, exchange or mortgage or lease beyond five years with a copy of the approval obtained from government or objections from trustees or interested parties as contemplated under Sec. 34 of the Act. He should constitute a committee/committees for each territory/region and direct the members to visit all temples in the State, identify the lands belonging to and in the custody of the temples and in the hands of encroachers with the help of local Tahsildars and submit a report before the court within six weeks.
He should send a communication to the trustees of various temples and collect the details of the properties under their custody and in illegal occupation of third parties and the list of cases pending in various courts and submit a report within six weeks.
The directives must be strictly complied with, failing which, the court would not hesitate to initiate appropriate proceedings, as this was the second opportunity given to the Commissioner after the directives issued on October 31, 2014, the judge warned and posted the matter after six weeks.