The Madras High Court has asked the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) department to respond to allegations of misuse of temple funds and properties by violating the rules and regulations.
The order was passed by the Court after receiving an additional affidavit from activist TR Ramesh, who works to free temples from government control.
Ramesh had earlier submitted to the Court that the department had misused temple property to construct offices, purchase computers and luxury cars like the Toyota Innova with temple funds. He said that his information was based on what he had obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The Court had then asked Ramesh to submit an additional affidavit.
In the additional affidavit, Ramesh said that his success rate of getting information under the RTI Act was less than 10 per cent but even then, he was able to figure out the huge amount of ‘criminal misappropriation’ of temple funds.
He said that the department had resorted to deliberately splitting construction costs to keep it below Rs 1 crore to avoid government orders necessary for the tender process.
Some examples given by him are as follows-
Land belonging to Sri Sammanthar Temple at Sitharkadu was used for constructing the offices of the regional commissioner and assistant commissioner for the Mayiladuthurai region. The construction cost of Rs 99 lakh was taken from four different temple funds.
Similarly, land belonging to the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple was used for the offices of the Madurai regional and assistant commissioners. The total construction cost of Rs 1.73 crore was taken in two tranches of Rs 98 lakh and Rs 75 lakh from different sets of temples.
He suggested the following measures-
An audit of temple properties and funds over the past two decades by an external organisation and constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by an Inspector General of Police to prosecute government and HRCE officials for misusing temple properties and funds.
A direction by the Court to the State government and HRCE Department to ensure reparations for usurped temple properties and restoration of temple funds. The reparations should be calculated based on the reports of external auditors and they should be paid with 7.95 per cent interest compounded annually.
Till a couple of years back, the department itself used to conduct the annual audit of the temples under its control and charge a fee for the auditing process.
Later the auditing function was transferred to the state government’s finance department at a request by the HRCE Commissioner to make the process more independent and transparent.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president K Annamalai recently said that the HRCE department would be abolished if his party comes to power.
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