The State of Tamil Nadu has filed its counter affidavit in the SLP preferred by Hindu Dharma Parishad seeking appointment of Arangavalar Committee (Trustee Committee) in all Hindu Temples headed by Retired Judge and with a social activist, a devotee, a Scheduled Caste person and a woman as its Members.
The State’s Counter Affidavit submits that the grounds raised by the petitioners in the Special Leave Petition are baseless and are based on a complete misunderstanding of the law.
Pointing out that the State of Tamil Nadu has the highest number of temples(38,658 under the HR&CE Department) compared to other States in India, the State's affidavit records that it is impossible to form Trust Board for each and every temple as prayed by the petitioners. The state's response submits, “it is practically not possible to appoint a Trust Board for each and every Temple consisting a retired Judge etc., as prayed for by the Petitioner.”
The State has also countered the petitioner’s averment that all temples in the state have large number of movable and immovable assets. It states, “…only a very few hundreds of temples alone having hundreds of Acres of lands and few hundreds of buildings. Only a very few temples are having much valued Gold ornaments…only 578 temples alone are having income more than Rs.10 Lakhs.”
On the Appointment and formation of Trustees under the Act
The State has further submitted that there is already a statutory provision under Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, (Tamil Nadu Act 22 to 1959) where the government is empowered to appoint a Board of Trustees comprising of not less than three and not more than five persons, of whom one shall be a member of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes and another one shall be a woman.
The affidavit says, “…the Government had issued necessary guidelines prescribing the procedure for selection and appointment of Trustees.”
The affidavit further says, “Government is empowered to appoint trustees for temples notified under Section 46(iii) of the Act. In order to have transparency in the selection process, the Government has constituted a Committee consisting of 7 members for the selection process.”
While specifically denying the allegation that ruling political parties are being appointed as trustees, the state's response further states that, “The applications received for appointment of Trustees are duly scrutinized and antecedents are verified through the Inspector. The persons who are suffering disqualification prescribed under Section 26 of the Act are not considered for appointment. Only qualified persons alone considered for appointment of trustees.”
The petitioners has placed reliance on the order in the Sree Padmanabhasamy Temple case, where the Top Court directed to form an administrative committee headed by the District Judge.
Stating that the comparison with that case was wrong, the State submitted that, “…Sri Padmanabaswamy Temple, which is referred by the Petitioner, situated in Thiruvananthapuram is administered by a single Trust Board. In Tamil Nadu, there are 38,658 number of Temples, which are administered by individual and separate Trust Board. So, the principle applicable to Sri Padmanabaswamy Temple could not be equally applicable to the temples in Tamil Nadu.”
The state's response further assures that, “The process of appointment of the trustees in temples have commenced and the same is going on in a phased manner. So far, this process have been commenced for 1045 temples all over State and the appointments will be completed in 6 months time.”
The affidavit adds, “Meanwhile, the Trust Board is formed, in order to run the day to day administration of the religious institutions and also to implement various welfare schemes, renovation works and development activities, benefitting devotees, fit persons appointed under the Act are functioning.”
The Supreme Court on January 23 had adjourned the hearing of the matter to January 30.
Hindu Dharma Parishad, the petitioners in the SLP, had argued before the High Court that several Hindu Temples in Tamil Nadu were not maintained well and they were destroyed. Against this backdrop the Parishad had sought appointment of Trustee Committee. The High Court bench of Justices Pushpa Sathyanarayana and P Velmurugan taking into consideration that there was a statutory provision under Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 had dismissed the writ petition.
Case Title: Hindu Dharma Parishad v The State of Tamil Nadu & Anr Special Leave to Appeal (C) No(s). 2197/2022