1 Feb 2023 7:43 AM GMT
The Madras High Court has ordered closure of all illegal/unauthorised websites that have been created in the name of temples and which have been collecting funds from the devotees by misleading them.Noting that temples are places of worship which people visit to get eternal peace and harmony, the bench of Justice R Mahadevan and Justice Sathya Narayana Prasad held that temples should not...
The Madras High Court has ordered closure of all illegal/unauthorised websites that have been created in the name of temples and which have been collecting funds from the devotees by misleading them.
Noting that temples are places of worship which people visit to get eternal peace and harmony, the bench of Justice R Mahadevan and Justice Sathya Narayana Prasad held that temples should not turn into places for gaining profits. Thus, the court held that apart from the official website of the temple, the third parties should not be allowed to maintain websites in the name of temples and collect funds.
Temples are places for worship visited by a host of citizens of varied cultures to get the eternal peace and harmony and it cannot be permitted to be turned as a platform for generating profit. Therefore, it is high time that the websites opened in the name of the temples by the third parties unauthorisedly to garner huge money, be closed and thereafter, it must be ensured that other than the official website of the temples, there shall not be any other website in existence to render any sort of service to the devotees.
The petitioners had approached the court after observing that several websites had been created by third parties and were collecting money from the public for offering various services and religious activities in the temple without the knowledge of the temple administration.
It was also contended that some unauthorised archakas were entering the temple to perform poojas. Further, some Priests/ Gurukkals/ Archakars have created a new temple by the name Sri Markandeya temple and were swaying devotees to visit the temples thus misappropriating funds. Thus, they sought appropriate directions against the same.
The court noted that it was necessary to protect the rights of the temples and to put an end to these illegalities. Thus, the court directed closure of the illegal websites with the help of officials from the Cyber crime wing. Further, a list of official websites of the temples could be provided to the Department of Telecommunication and Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology so that the internet service providers can be instructed to continuously block all other illegal websites that may pop up with fake domain names or IP addresses.
The court also suggested that the existing websites of the temples could be revamped to provide online services regarding rituals and poojas. Mechanisms can also be introduced for online booking and for making donations. These existing websites should be given wide publicity as per guidelines of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department. The temples can also provide a dedicated contact number of an officer who can be informed about the existence of bogus websites. The department can then take appropriate civil and criminal action.
The court also directed officials of the Cyber crime wing to take immediate action whenever complaints are received with respect to bogus websites. They shall also conduct periodical inspections and report any illegality for appropriate action. Temple administration was also directed to take all efforts to prevent touts from providing services.
The court directed that adequate boards and hundials will be placed across the temples informing devotees of the details of the temple. The information will also include details (including fee) of the services offered and the payment gateway for the same.
Only the temple administration will be authorised to collect amount for performing various services and due receipt will be given to the devotees. These amounts will be properly accounted for and audited. Further, only authorised Archakars/Guides and photographers will be permitted in the temple after registering themselves with identity cards to prevent touts.
The court also suggested that all the procedures with respect to the religious ceremonies have to be streamlined to ensure systematic, transparent and smooth functioning of the religious activities of the temples.
With respect to Sri Markandeya Temple, the HR&CE department had submitted that a fit person was already appointed to look after the affairs of the temple. The court directed the fit person to ensure that all the expenditures in the temple are duly accounted for and that the services are offered through authorised websites only.
Case Title: P Markandan v. The Commissioner HR&CE Department
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 38
Case No: Writ Petition (MD) Nos. 23410 and 23671 of 2022
Counsel for the Petitioners: Mr. R. Venkatesh, Mr. M. Karthikeyan
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr. Veerakathiravan, Additional Advocate General assisted by Mr. P. Subburaj Additional Government Pleader, Mr. M. Karthikeyan, Mr. K. Rajesh Khanna, Mr. V.R. Shanmuganathan, Mr. M. Muthugeethaiyan , Mr. M. Saravanan, Mr. K. Govindarajan and Mrs. L. Victoria Gowri.