Madras HC says temple lands can't be diverted for other purposes, orders removal of encroachments
The court directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to identify and safeguard all temple lands from encroachers with an officer in charge filing periodical reports
CHENNAI: Observing 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 fields of arts, science and sculpture, the Madras High Court on Wednesday said the state government cannot use temple lands for any purpose other than for holding religious functions.
The court also directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to identify and safeguard all temple lands from encroachers with an officer in charge filing periodical reports.
The issue pertains to the encroachment of lands of the Sakthi Muthamman temple near Neelankarai and the Kottai Mariamman temple in Salem. The court pronounced its orders in the batch of pleas filed by several petitioners over the encroachment of temple land.
Justice R Mahadevan in his order observed that the properties of religious institutions, particularly temples, have to be maintained properly.
"However, the HR&CE Department, which is the custodian of the temple properties, has not taken any steps to protect the interests of temples, though the subject falls within its purview. Such a callous attitude on their part cannot be countenanced," added the court.
Ordering the removal of encroachments from temple lands, the judge also called for the fisheries department that has constructed a building near Neelankarai to enter into an agreement with the HR and CE department for which rent will be collected.
Justice R Mahadevan then directed the Commissioner, HR&CE Department, to take action in retrieving the lands by removing all the encroachments, if any, and maintain them.
"The HR&CE Department shall take steps to start construction by putting a compound wall to secure and safety of the subject lands. Except for temple related purposes, the lands shall not be used for
any other purposes. The officer authorised by the Commissioner, HR&CE Department shall maintain a proper register with respect to the financial aspects of the subject temples and its properties and file the same before the authority concerned at regular intervals," said the court.
The court also directed to post the matter after six months for reporting compliance.