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‘Temple lands shall always remain with temples’ observes Madras High Court

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Chennai. Emphasizing sweeping reforms in the administration of temples under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, the Madras High Court passed an order on 9 June, 2021. The Court emphasized that temple lands must always remain with temples and the State Government or HR&CE Department should not alienate or give away such land’s contrary to the wish of the donors.

The younger generation hyping upon science and technological development needs to understand that many things claimed to be discovered and equated with scientific objective were said and laid down here before centuries in spiritual sphere”, observed a division bench comprising Justices R. Mahadevan and PD Audikesavalu in the prelude of the 224-page order.

“The intelligence, knowledge and skill of the people of this land have been far superior and precocious even in fields that science is yet to find answer. In proof, not only have the primogenitors of this land left behind theories beyond human comprehension, but also astonishing and illuminating monuments and scriptures. The object of such creation was not just a personal achievement, but a conscious effort to leave a historical imprint for future generations”, the bench added.

“The upcoming generation does not know about the value of the same. That apart, the custodians of grand and antique temples and ancient monuments are least bothered and the conservation of our valuable heritage is deteriorating not due to any natural calamity or catastrophe, but due to reckless administration and maintenance under the guise of renovation”.

The Court also observed that the ‘public purpose theory’ should not be invoked over temple lands for acquisitions as the community interests generally rests with such lands.

“The state Government or the Commissioner of the HR&CE department who are the Trustee/administrator of the temple lands, shall not alienate or give away the lands contrary to the wish of the donor. The lands shall always remain with the temples. The public purpose theory shall not be invoked in cases of temple lands over which the interest of the community people of the religious denomination generally rests”, the Court directed.

The Court also directed the authorities to take stock of the list of leaseholds and encroachments over temple lands, and take immediate steps for recovery of rent arrears, eviction of defaulters and encroachers. A list of defaulters with the arrears due from them must be prepared within a period of six (6) weeks and the same must be published in the website. Appropriate steps must be taken to evict them and recover the arrears as per the provisions of the HR&CE Act and the rules there under.

The Court criticized the departments of HR&CE and the Archeology for not doing enough for the upkeep of ancient temples and idols.

The bench directed that the state should constitute a 17-member heritage commission within two months, and declared that no structural alteration or repair of any monument, temple, idol, sculpture or murals notified either under the Central Act or the State Act should take place without the sanction of commission.

The bench further directed that a high-level committee has to be formed to review the HR&CE Act once in three years to make necessary amendments however, subject to judicial review.

The Court directed that the Central Government shall implement the Ancient Monuments Act in letter and spirit, by declaring all religious structures more than 100 years old including temples, temples’ tanks, mutts, temple chariots, jewels, art, artefacts, and sacred groves etc., including private denomination temples, as ‘national monuments’ with immediate effect.

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