Tamil Nadu Government ‘Take Over’ Of Shiva Temple Land: HR&CE Department Has Committed Various Errors, Say Devotees
Temple activists and devotees say the HR&CE Department has committed multiple errors in handing over of the temple lands.
The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable (HR&CE) Department has committed over half a dozen errors in its efforts to allow alienating 14.09 hectares of dryland belonging to the Sri Nareeswarar Temple at Veeracholapuram in the state’s Kallakurichi district, to build a collectorate.
The errors came to light when the department held a public hearing on the objections to the alienation of the lands.
The hearing was conducted on 29 October after the HR&CE Department issued a public notice in a newspaper to alienate the temple lands for the collectorate’s construction at a cost of Rs 1.98 crore. Activists and devotees claim the land value is 40 times more.
According to temple activists and devotees, who attended the meeting at the HR&CE headquarters in Chennai, the department has committed errors from initiating the handing over of the lands to hearing the objections.
At the outset, when the hearing began, HR&CE Commissioner S Prabhakar Rao, who assumed charge a couple of weeks ago, was told by the gathering that the hearing should have been held before the land was handed over to the state government for construction. This was according to Section 34 of the HR&CE Act of the state.
Section 34 of HR&CE Act says the commissioner will have to sanction the sale, lease or mortgage of the land for over five years. Before that, the commissioner is required to publish the intention of selling, leasing or transferring the land and seek public opinion.
In the case of the Sri Nareeswarar Temple lands, construction activities began even before the HR&CE sanctioned their alienation.
“The hearing is being held after construction activities have begun. This seems to be an eyewash. Work should have begun only after the HR&CE Department handed over the land,” said an Hindu Makkal Katchi representative as soon as the proceedings began.
Temple Worshippers Society president T R Ramesh, in his submission, said no proceeding under Section 34 of HR&CE Act is complete without the temple’s board of trustees.
According to the HR&CE Act, the board of trustees has to meet at least once in 90 days and this has not happened in the case of the Sri Nareeswarar Temple. Also, the “fit person” nominated by the government in the absence of the board of trustees cannot solely decide on the sale or lease of temple land.
Pointing to the Govind Menon versus Union of India ruling of the Supreme Court, Ramesh said the HR&CE Commissioner had to enquire and approve the proposal for the sale or lease of land.
As HR&CE Commissioner, Phanindra Reddy had on 5 September this year sent a letter to the government seeking permission to alienate the land, “This clearly shows that the HR&CE Commissioner initiated the proceedings,” Ramesh said.
Now, the HR&CE Commissioner had issued a public notice calling for objections for handing over the land. This was wrong under the process of law, the Temple Worshippers Society president said.
“The government, its machinery have been allowed to enter the site and allowed to start work. This makes the entire proceedings vitiated,” Ramesh, also Indic Collective president, said.
He also pointed to the Madras High Court's Madurai bench ruling on Palani Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple which said that Section 34 of HR&CE Act granted the power to sell a temple property only when it is necessary for the temple’s welfare.
“In other words, under Section 34 any sale cannot be for public purpose. Temple land should be sold only as a last resort. The district collector has to confirm that no other land is available or the land is not usable. Even then, saying that 40 hectares of the temple’s land cannot be used is unacceptable,” Ramesh said.
Responding to this as well as objections from temple activist Rangarajan Narasimhan, Prabhakar Rao said that the activities on the temple lands have been ordered to be stopped.
The Temple Worshippers Society president pointed out that the previous HR&CE Commissioner had told the Tamil Nadu government that the compensation for the temple land was “very low”. The HR&CE joint commissioner of the locality, too, had supported the commissioner’s view.
Temple activist Rangarajan Narasimhan said the lands of the temple have been “trespassed” and a first information report (FIR) had to be filed against the violations.
The activists’ argument was that an FIR be filed against the Tamil Nadu government since the land-breaking ceremony was held on 23 October, while the HR&CE public notice seeking public views was published only on 26 October.
To a question from Narasimhan, the HR&CE Commissioner said the proceedings from the land will be deposited in the account and the temple will use the interest from it for its maintenance.
But Narasimhan said that this would be invalid since the temple did not have a board of trustees. When Prabhakar Rao said the temple had a “fit person” to manage its affairs, the temple activist said allowing a “fit person” to manage temple affairs for over 10 years was objectionable.
He said the temple lands could be alienated only after a board of trustees was in place. Narasimhan contended that the public notice did not comply with the HR&CE Act and hence was invalid.
Narasimhan wondered if the HR&CE Department had made any assessment on the temple’s revenue land. He also said the public notice should have details of the land’s revenue or an estimate.
When the HR&CE Commissioner claimed that no one had taken the lease of the land, the temple activist wondered why it was not mentioned in the notice.
One of the hotly-disputed issues at the meeting was the value of the land. HR&CE officials claimed that they did not have a guideline value. But activists pointed out that the value of land within 1.6 km radius of another land whose value is known is treated to be the same.
Thus, when a nearby land has been valued, the temple land’s value should have been ascertained. They argued the value of the land was far higher.
One of the devotees pointed out that the public notice had erroneously said the consecration (kumbhabhishekam) of the temple was conducted a couple of years ago when the fact was that the consecration had not been conducted for nearly 250 years now.
He also said that it would require at least Rs 7 crore to renovate and refurbish the temple.
Narasimhan pointed out that the temple was in a dilapidated condition with some parts developing cracks and others without proper cover.
“When the HR&CE Department had done nothing to maintain the temple, what right does it have to alienate or sell its land?” he wondered. His views were supported by almost all during the hearing.
A Hindu Munnani leader taking part in the meeting also wondered when the HR&CE Department had failed to properly maintain the temple, how did it have the right to give away its lands.
He also sought to know how the HR&CE Commission would ensure that the proceedings of the sale of the temple land would not be misused after it is deposited with a bank.
Activists also pointed out to a Supreme Court ruling that said that when government takes over a temple land due to any compulsion or lack of alternative, it had to compensate with lands of equal value. They demanded lands of equal value than monetary compensation.
The HR&CE officials were found wanting in responding to many questions. One official drew everyone’s ire when she said that the temple land had no water facility.
Activists pointed out that a rivulet passed by the lands and also that some government wastelands were also available for construction of the collectorate.
The HR&CE Department will likely make its decision known soon on the objections raised by devotees and temple activists.
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