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'High Court Custodian Of Minor Deity, Can't Be Mute Spectator': Madras HC Raps HR&CE Department For Inaction Against Illegal Temple Occupant

Sebin James
27 Nov 2021 5:18 AM GMT
High Court Custodian Of Minor Deity, Cant Be Mute Spectator: Madras HC Raps HR&CE Department For Inaction Against Illegal Temple Occupant
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In many Temple properties, Lessees are in possession without any authority and actions taken by Authorities are absolutely not satisfactory, the Court said.

The Madras High Court recently censured the trustees of a temple and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of state for purported corrupt practices while dealing with temple properties."This Court is witnessing day in and day out that the said illegal occupants are many and numerous. In respect of Temple properties and in many such cases, the Lessees are in possession...

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The Madras High Court recently censured the trustees of a temple and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of state for purported corrupt practices while dealing with temple properties.

"This Court is witnessing day in and day out that the said illegal occupants are many and numerous. In respect of Temple properties and in many such cases, the Lessees are in possession without any authority and actions taken by the Authorities are absolutely not satisfactory. Thus, the Courts are bound to draw factual inference that some Authorities are colluding with such Private Parties on various reasons and on extraneous considerations,", Justice S.M Subramaniam observed.

The Judge added,

"This Court would not hesitate to record that corrupt activities are rampant in respect of dealing with Temple properties either at the instance of the Trustees or the Competent Authorities. All these activities are to be brought down and persons responsible and accountable must be prosecuted to protect the interest of the minor Deity in the Temple."

The observations were made while dismissing the plea of a 90-yr old claiming possession in Maahaliamman temple property in Coimbatore, at the strength of a lease deed.

The petitioner contended that he has been a leaseholder since 1960 and that his possession is valid. He had moved the Court challenging the notices issued to him for payment of arrears of revised rent, claiming that the communication about revision was not served on him.

At the outset the Court noted that under Section 34 of the HR&CE Act, the Competent Authorities/ Trustees are empowered to grant lease of the Temple property for the maximum period of five years. Beyond this, the lease may be extended only with the prior approval of the Commissioner of HR&CE Department.

In the instant case, the Court noted that the petitioner has not established even a semblance of legal right in the property. It noted that he is not holding any valid lease since the lease granted to him in the year 1960 got expired on completion of five years of period and there was no documents available to establish that the Commissioner had further extended the lease in terms of the aforementioned Act.

"Once it is established that a person is in unauthorised occupation, mere payment of arrears of rent would not confer any right to claim leasehold rights, which is otherwise to be conferred or extended in accordance with the provisions of the Act," the Court made it clear.

In any case, the Court noted that in proceedings dated 14.12.2020 itself, the revised rent of Rs.17,200/- per month was communicated to the petitioner.

Further, on the inaction of HR&CE Department officials for removing unauthorised occupants, the Court observed,

"Admittedly, the subject property is a Temple property. The minor Deity is the owner of the property. The High Court, being the custodian of the minor, is bound to protect the interest of the minor Deity, more specifically in Religious Institutions. Thus, the High Court has to interfere in such circumstances even in the absence of initiation of action by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department in certain circumstances or inaction by the Authorities due to the active or passive collusion with the Private Parties."

It added that the Department is entrusted with the function of overseeing Temple activities and action related to any irregularity, non-collection of rent, extension of lease, fixation of fair rent, all must taken scrupulously as per the provisions of the Act.

"Great Souls donated their hard earned money to the Religious Institutions with a greater expectation that their donations will be utilised for the benefit of the temple and to the Devotees of the Temple. If their wishes are not honoured, no doubt, the Competent Authorities and the Trustees of the temple not only committing a sin, but also infringing the right of the minor Deity," the Court remarked.

"…Temple property must be utilised for the purpose of temple related activities or it is to be leased out through Open Public Auction for the benefit of the Temple and its activities", the court recorded in the order.

It thus directed the Temple Authorities and the HR&CE Department to initiate proceedings under Section 78 of the Act and conclude the same within a period of three months. 

Case Title: K.A. Sreedharan v. The Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments

Case No: WP No.25059 of 2021 And WMP No.26399 of 2021

Click Here To Read/  Download Order


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