In a plea seeking to quash an order issued by the Tamil Nadu government for constructing Senior Citizen Homes in Chennai, Pazhani, and Tirunelveli using excess temple funds, the Madras High Court has been assured that the scheme will not be implemented for six weeks.
Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram submitted, "no appropriation from any source pursuant to the impugned G.O. will be made for a period of six weeks"
The bench of Justice GR Swaminathan and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy was hearing public interest litigation filed by the President of Indic Collective Trust and the Temple Worshippers Society, Mr. T.R Ramesh challenging the GO issued by Tourism, Culture, and Religious Endowments Department on January 12, pursuant to the announcements made by the Minister for HR&CE Department during the Budget Session of the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2021-2022. The G.O stated as under:
"30. In Chennai, Pazhani and Tirunelveli, senior citizens homes with all amenities will be commenced at an expenditure of Rs 5 Crores."
The petitioner submitted that in Pazhani the construction of Senior Citizens' homes on Temple property is by utilizing the funds of the temple and in Tirunelveli and Chennai, the construction is by utilizing the "Commissioner's" Common Good Fund and Donor Funds. The tender for construction of the Senior Citizen Home in Chennai was opened on 28.04.2022.
The petitioner also submitted that none of the three temples in these areas have a Board of Trustees and the functioning of these temples has been carried out by a Government Fit Person and Executive Officers who have been illegally holding the said posts. He pointed out that these Fit Persons, who are interim appointees, cannot take major decisions with regard to the Temples, and in the absence of any validly constituted Board of Trustees, no major policy decisions can be taken. He pointed out that utilizing crores of rupees out of temple funds would amount to a major policy decision and therefore ought to be halted. Therefore, such decisions which can potentially have large implications in the overall administration and functioning of said Temples, cannot be taken by a Fit Person of the said Temples.
He further submitted that Section 36,36-A and 36-B of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 specifically deals with the utilization of Surplus Funds and Section 36 provides that the trustees of religious institutions may appropriate any portion of the accumulated surplus of temple funds for the purposes specified in Section 66 of the Act. The section also provides that for utilization of these surplus funds, a proposal be made by a Trustee; public notice of such proposal be caused inviting suggestions and objections from persons interested, within a period of 30 days; and thereafter the Commissioner may approve such utilization of surplus funds for purposes set out in the provisions.
Further, Section 66(1) of the Act states as under:
66. Appropriation of endowments.—(1) The Joint Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner, as the case may be], may, on being satisfied that the purpose of a religious institution has from the beginning been, or has subsequently become, impossible of realisation, by order, direct that the endowments of the institution be appropriated to all or any of the following purposes, namely:—
(a) the grant of aid to any other religious institution which is poor or in needy circumstances;
(b) the grant of aid to any religious purpose connected with the Hindu religion;
(c) the propagation of the religious tenets of the institution;
(d) the recitation of Divya Prabhandam and Thevaram and the like;
(e) the establishment and maintenance of schools for the training of archakas, adyapakas, vedaparayanikas and othuvars and for the study of Divya Prabandhams, Thevarams and the like, including the study of Indian languages for that purposes;
(f) the establishment and maintenance of a University or college or other institution in which the main features shall be the provision for the study of Hindu religion, philosophy or sastras or for imparting instructions in Hindu temple architecture;
(g) the establishment and maintenance of educational institution where instruction in the Hindu religion is also provided;
(h) promotion of fine arts and architecture;
(i) the establishment and maintenance of orphanages for Hindu children;
(j) the establishment and maintenance of asylums for persons suffering from leprosy;
k) the establishment and maintenance of poor homes for destitute, helpless and physically disabled persons; and
(l) the establishment and maintenance of hospitals and dispensaries for the benefit of pilgrims:
Thus, the petitioner contended that the construction of the Senior Citizen's Home(s) does not find any mention under the provisions of the Act.
The petitioner also brought to the notice of the court, a decision of the division bench of the Madras High Court in Suo Moto Writ Petition W.P No. 574 of 2015, where the court had directed as follows:
(24) The funds of the temples shall first be utilized for the maintenance of temples, conducting temple festivals, payment to its staff including the archakas, oduvars, musicians, folklore and drama artiste. In case of surplus funds, the same shall be utilized for attending the repair and maintenance of other temples in the state as specified under the HR&CE Act and the Rules framed there under and for propaganda of the tenets of all or any of the religious institutions under the HR&CE Act." (Emphasis supplied).
The court took note of the submission of the petitioner that even though the purpose of establishing Senior Citizen homes may be brought under Section 66 (1) (k) of the Act, the procedure set out under Section 36 of the Act read with the Rules made thereunder have not been fulfilled and thus were liable to be set aside.
The case has been posted to 13th June 2022 for counter and further hearing.
Case Title: T.R Ramesh v. The State of Tamil Nadu and Others
Case No: W.P No 12673 of 2022