Ordering notice in this regard to the Chief Secretary as well as the Secretary, Department of Tourism Culture and Religious Endowments and the Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE), a division bench comprising Justice MM Sundresh and Justice R Hemalatha, said: “We find that the questions raised are substantial in nature, which are required to be answered. Therefore, we call upon the respondents to answer the issue raised.”
The petitioner, Rangarajan Narasimhan, appearing party-in-person in the case, challenging a GO dated May 15 which paved way for using funds of financially stable temples to renovate small village temples, said: “A proposal will have to emanate at the bottom, namely, the Board of Trustees, which has to be approved by the Commissioner whereas it has been done on the reverse.” Also, pointing out that there is neither an enumeration of the available funds nor a proper accounting or auditing by an external authority of the temple funds, he contended that no work has been done to identify, regulate, protect and augment the wealth of the temples including the immovable assets.
“There are instances where the immovable properties of the temples are either being sold by the third parties who proclaim right by their mere possession notwithstanding their status with the tacit support of one and all,” the petitioner added.
The bench also recorded the contention of the petitioner that the temple properties are being treated as those of individuals and the government, as the case may be, and not that of the temple and hence a lot of care is required to augment higher income for the temples as the assets are substantial.
However, Special Government Pleader M Karthikeyan gave an undertaking to the court that the funds will not be utilised for the smaller temples until further orders. The GO had paved way for providing Rs 10 crore to renovate 1,000 financially unstable village temples under the control of HR&CE.
The petitioner had roped in the 18 temples as respondents in the plea including the Sri Subramanya Swamy Temple, Tiruchendur; Sri Ramanatha Swamy Temple, Rameswaram; Sri Kapaleshwarar Temple, Mylapore; and Sri Vadapalani Andavar Temple, Vadaplani from which the funds were being diverted. The plea is scheduled for further hearing on August 17.