The first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu issued the direction while hearing a petition filed by TR Ramesh, president, Temple Worshippers Society, seeking to quash the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Condition of Service) Rules, 2020.
The petitioner said the government had deemed HR&CE officials as fit persons to exercise the power to appoint officers and staff, including the archakas, odhuvars and other ulthurai (internal) staff. Earlier, it was the trustees who had the authority to do so. This change brought about by the impugned rules unreasonably restricted the rights of the trustees and was against the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act, 1959, petitioner submitted through his counsel MR Venkatesh.
“The government-appointed fit persons are appointing priests (archakas). The practice is against the agamas (spiritual rules). There are agamas relevant to various temples and appointments should be made by the traditional trustees as per the agamas,” the petitioner argued.
He also added that the government had not appointed the trustees to HR&CE temples since 2011.
However, the bench said it would not impose an interim stay on the rules. “There is no interim order is granted as prayed for, there must be no breach in the particular agamas relevant to the particular temples. Any appointments made will abide by the result of the petition since it prima facie appears that the appointment by a fit person may not be the appropriate form under the (HR&CE) Act of 1959,” the bench added.
The court also directed the state to fill up the trustees’ vacancies in the appropriate manner and in accordance with the law so that such trustees can, in terms of the (HR&CE) Act of 1959, choose the archakas, the judges said.
The matter for seven weeks and directed the State Government to file its counter within four weeks.