CHENNAI: Fresh out of the lockdown, lease holders of temple lands in the city are staring at a fresh concern — the monthly rent due for the land belonging to temples is allegedly being raised to exorbitant rates and without transparency.“We used to pay around Rs 4,000 for 750 sq ft. Now, with the increased rent since 2016 and the arrears, it has reached Rs 20,000,” said Kamalesh Kumar NV, organising secretary of the Tamil Nadu Adimanai Vadagaitharargal Nala Sangam. He alleged that though the rent was revised in 2016 he was notified only in 2019.
“They said I have to pay around Rs 8 lakh, including arrears for the revised rent since 2016,” he added. The resident of Veerappan Street on NSC Bose Road is unemployed due to age-related problems and is dependent on his daughter, who works for a private firm.Historically, most families that became lease holders of these temple lands were homeless and lived in and around the temples. Some of the lease deeds were executed by the trustees of the temples even before 1950.
The structures (houses or shops) on these lands are built and owned by the leaseholders, constructed and expanded with their savings over several years, or sometimes, generations. For these structures, the leaseholders pay the respective taxes apart from electricity and water charges.Senior advocate V Raghupathy said most of the affected people are from lower-middle-class families and built houses on temple lands in the belief that the law will protect them.
“For the past 20 years, temple authorities have been increasing the monthly land rent at exorbitant rates without taking into consideration the lessees, who own the superstructures. In several cases, appealing in court results in retaliation. A family in Mylapore was locked out of their home (for alleged default of rent) and was allowed inside only after the court issued an order,” he said.
“There is no transparency in how the rent is fixed. For instance, if a family stays in Mylapore or another prime locality, their rent is increased manifold by the committee. But if you go there, you’ll see around 10 families that have been living in a small structure for several years. They won’t be able to afford it,” he added.
The owners of houses and shops on these temple lands often find themselves in a fix - since their life savings have been spent on the houses they built, they are unable to vacate the land even if the rent is increased exorbitantly.
“To add to our indignation, under Sections 78 and 79 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Act, we can easily be termed encroachers and evicted by the Joint Commissioner,” Kamalesh said. The joint commissioner, HR&CE was unavailable for comment.