Cultural centre construction on hold: Tamil Nadu to Madras HC

“How can a minister suo motu make the announcement? Can a minister announce in the Assembly on how the temple fund can be spent?” asked Justice Swaminathan.
The petitioner flagged violations of HR&CE Act and rules in building the proposed cultural centre on land owned by Kapaleeswarar temple
The petitioner flagged violations of HR&CE Act and rules in building the proposed cultural centre on land owned by Kapaleeswarar temple(Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Thursday questioned the rationale behind the minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) making announcements on the utilisation of temple funds. The question was raised while hearing a public interest litigation petition challenging the establishment of a cultural centre by utilising the land and surplus funds of Mylapore Kapaleeswarar temple.

After Advocate General PS Raman submitted that the construction of the centre would be put off till the PIL is disposed of, a vacation bench headed by Justice GR Swaminthan, and including Justice PB Balaji, adjourned the hearing to the third week of June.

“How can a minister suo motu make the announcement? Can a minister announce in the Assembly on how the temple fund can be spent?” asked Justice Swaminathan.

Referring to the submissions of advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan appearing for the petitioner TR Ramesh, the judge said the temple fund can be utilised based on the decisions of the trustees and ‘it can’t come top-down’.

Replying to the queries, the AG said, “The minister can make the announcement in the public interest.” However, he noted that such an announcement by the minister in the Assembly is immaterial to the present case since the newly-elected trustees passed a resolution for establishing the cultural centre in 2023 and the GO was issued subsequently.

When around 22 grounds (1.2 acres) of land is lying unutilised, it can be tapped for public interest and developed for raising the cultural centre which would generate income through rentals, he added.

The bench again questioned whether someone would be allowed to hold a “jeba koottam” (prayer gathering by Christians) if they paid the rent at the proposed facility. The AG replied that only Hindu religious functions would be allowed to be held in the cultural centre. Recording the submission of the AG that the construction activities would be put on hold till the PIL is disposed of, the bench adjourned the hearing to the third week of June.

The petitioner flagged violations of the provisions of the HR&CE Act and the Rules in setting up the proposed cultural centre in the land of Kapaleeswarar temple. Contending that temple funds cannot be utilised for other purposes, he said the project would result in the draining of the coffers of the temple.

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