‘Tamil Nadu Temples Administered By Officials A Fraud On Statute, Has Continued For Scandalously Long Period’: Madras High Court

‘Tamil Nadu Temples Administered By Officials A Fraud On Statute, Has Continued For Scandalously Long Period’: Madras High Court The Madras High Court.
Snapshot
  • Madras High Court questions state on letting bureaucrats administer temples and emphasised the need to set up a board of trustees.

In a significant judgement, the Madras High Court has questioned Tamil Nadu Government’s policy of leaving the administration of temples to bureaucrats and has stressed the need for temples in the state to be administered by their board of trustees.

The Madurai bench of the court was ruling on a petition from Temple Worshippers Society President and Indic Collective President T R Ramesh against the Palani Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple executive officer (EO) for issuing a tender on housekeeping service.

Justice G R Swaminathan, in his ruling, quashed the tender on the grounds that the EO doubling as the “fit person" of the temple administration cannot take decisions that have financial implications.

In a tweet, T R Ramesh said that the position of the EO (in continuing as the "fit person" in the place of board of trustees) has been declared illegal and it was a significant order in recent times.

Ramesh had challenged the tender, issued on 20 August this year, on various grounds, including the fact that the EO continued to be the “fit person” since 2011.

Following political changes in 2011, when the current All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government came to power, the board of trustees of the temple resigned.

Then, in order to fill the vacuum, the state government appointed the EO as ex-officio “fit person” to administer the affairs of one of the most popular pilgrimage centres for worshippers of Lord Skanda.

Pointing out that the measure to appoint the EO as an “interim measure”, Justice Swaminathan wondered why the temple trust has not had a regular board for a decade and the EO continued to be at the helm of the temple affairs.

"The authorities have either not found time or felt it necessary to constitute the board of trustees. Such a state of affairs can only be characterised as subversion of the statutory scheme," the judge said.

"As per Rule 11 of Collection of Income and the Incurring of Expenditure Rules, no expenditure shall be incurred without the written order of the trustee. But, if the executive officer himself is also made the fit person so that he can discharge the functions of a trustee, and such a scenario continues for years together, it is certainly fraud on the statute," the judge said.

He ruled the tender was violative of the provisions of Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959.

Ramesh’s counsel S Parthasarathi argued that the Palani temple’s EO had been made the “fit person” under the Madras Act, 1927 and his continuation was illegal.

"This state of affairs had continued for scandalously long period," Justice Swaminathan observed.

No notification was issued in this regard under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1959, the petitioner said.

The other contention was devotees undertook voluntary housekeeping services under “Uzhavara pani” and efforts were being made to outsource them under “housekeeping contract”, which will involve outgo of funds.

Justice Swaminathan said devotees had the right to undertake such voluntary service and the temple management cannot deny it.

Agreeing with the petitioner, the judge said that reconstituting temple trust boards in Tamil Nadu with men of impeccable character would be a good starting point.

“Leaving the temples in the care of the bureaucracy and politicians hasn't helped," Justice Swaminathan quoted an English daily editorial on the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple at Antarvedi town in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district.

The Tamil Nadu government’s counter was to merely question the locus standi of the petitioner. It said he should have filed a public interest litigation rather than question the tender.

The judge, however, said the petition has been filed by Ramesh as a devotee of the temple and it was clearly valid.

Supreme Court advocate J Sai Deepak, who is actively involved in revival of temples, said that the High Court’s ruling was significant as it had actually struck down the EO’s continuance as the “fit person”.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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