Can’t use temple funds for colleges sans trustees nod: Madras High Court

The Madras High Court barred the State government from establishing educational institutions using funds from Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department before appointing trustees to the temples functioning under the department
Madras High Court (File Photo)
Madras High Court (File Photo)


The first bench of the court added that the fate of the arts and science college that the department set up in Kolathur, and has planned in three other districts would depend on the outcome of the case.
The first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu issued the direction on a plea moved by TR Ramesh praying for a direction against using temple funds for setting up of colleges without the proposal by temple trustees.
Though Section 36 of the HR&CE Act, 1959, permits the government to start educational institutions, the decision has to come from the trustees, contended the petitioner.
“The government has made a policy decision to set up colleges with HR&CE temple funds in Kolathur in Chennai, Ottanchathiram in Dindigul, Tiruchengode in Namakkal and Vilathikulam in Thoothukudi. It is against several sections and rules of the HR&CE Act. The government should set up colleges only when the trustees proposing it to the Commissioner. The government on its own cannot invoke Section 36 of the Act,” argued the petitioner appearing party in person.
The petitioner also pointed out that trustees have not been appointed to nearly 20,000 temples in the State.
Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram contended that Section 97 of the HR&CE Act allowed the government to use the surplus funds of temples to start educational institutions. He added that the process of appointing trustees would be completed within two-three weeks.
Recording the submissions, the judges noted that the trustees were not appointed in the temples for the past 10 to 12 years, and agreed that as per the Act, it is the trustees who should take the decision for utilising the funds.
“The government cannot transfer the funds of temples voluntarily without the decision of the trustees. The State cannot set up any educational institutions without appointing the trustees to all the temples by following the due process of the law,” the bench held.
The court also made it clear that the decision of establishing four colleges in Chennai, Ottanchathiram, Tiruchengodu, and Vilathikulam was subject to the outcome of the petition. The bench then asked the government to file its counter within three weeks and adjourned the matter for five weeks.
Recently, the HR&CE Department had started the Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Arts and Science College in Kolathur, Chief Minister MK Stalin’s constituency.

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