The Chennai Collector has retrieved oven 10 acres of land belong to the Arulmigu Sundara Varadharaja Perumal temple in the Virugambakkam locality from a local mosque committee after over 20 years struggle by devotees and temple activists.
However, the collector has not responded to a plea to retrieve a pond of the temple that could have occupied nearly 2.5 acres.
In 1997, the pond was reported to have been desilted but some vested interests tried to take over the pond and the adjoining lands, totalling nearly 14 acres. The land was donated to the temple by the Sunguvar Brahmin community.
In 1910 records, these lands were shown under the control of the Taluk Board. Over a period of time, barring the land where the pond existed, the rest was encroached by the vested interests.
The local mosque committee, which planned to construct a place of worship there, was among those who successfully registered three acres of the illegally occupied land in its name. It completed the registration process with the help of government staff.
When the local Hindu Munnani came to know about this, it staged a protest against it. Temple Worshippers Society President T R Ramesh filed a public interest litigation against the registration.
The Madras High Court accepted his argument and cancelled the registration. It also asked the Chennai collector to investigate the issue. The Supreme Court, too, upheld the High Court ruling.
However, when the collector called all the disputing parties for a hearing, the mosque committee representatives did not turn up. In view of this, the inquiry could not be completed even after two years.
Without knowing these developments, temple activist Jebamani Mohanraj moved the High Court to retrieve the temple’s pond. In his petition he argued for the retrieval of the pond, something no one else sought until then.
Fortunately, the case was heard by the same judge who had asked the Chennai collector to investigate the temple land issue. The judge asked the collector to immediately complete the investigations and find out if a pond existed there.
The judge’s order came despite the state government seeking regular adjournments in the case, Mohanraj told Swarajya.
Following this, the collector began investigating the case quickly and the Wakf Board representatives took part in the hearing. Barring the mosque committee representatives, the rest of those who took part in the investigations demanded the retrieval of the temple pond.
After hearing all those concerned with the case, the collector fixed a date for the final hearing. But three days before the final hearing, the collector was transferred. Interestingly, over the next two weeks after that, all government staff who were connected with the case were transferred.
As the case dragged on, Mohanraj filed a contempt of court case in the Madras High Court. When the court was about to hear the contempt case, the collector’s investigations resumed.
When the contempt petition was taken up for hearing, the collector told the court that the ruling would be given in 10 days time.
However, the ruling came two months later in view of the novel Coronavirus pandemic affecting the functioning of various departments.
In the ruling, the Chennai collector rejected the Wakf Board arguments and restored the lands to the Taluk Board. The interesting aspect to note here is that the lands were not restored to either the temple or the community which donated it.
But the collector’s ruling is being seen as upholding the ownership of the temple.
Though the collector has mentioned during the investigations, the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department and temple authorities had mentioned the existence of the pond. But no ruling was given on it.
According to Mohanraj, the ruling has ensured that the temple lands have not been encroached either by the mosque committee or land sharks.
But no decision has been made on the missing temple pond. He has now petitioned the Madras High Court on the issue again.
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