The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) department has said that it is not possible to appoint trustees to all temples in the state that are under its control.
It was responding to a special leave petition by Hindu Dharma Parishad that wanted the Supreme Court to direct the department to appoint a board of trustees for each temple. The Parishad wanted the trust to comprise of a retired judge, a woman, a member from the scheduled castes, a social activist and a devotee. The retired judge would be the head of the temple trust.
The idea of wanting a retired judge to head the temple trust comes from the Supreme Court judgement in the Padmanabhaswamy temple case, which said that the district judge of Thiruvananthapuram would be the chairperson of the administrative committee.
Arguing against the petition, the department said that there are a huge number of temples, (38,658 to be exact) under its control and it would be impossible to appoint trustees to all of them as per the formula requested by the Parishad.
It said that the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act,1959 already has provision for the appointment of a temple trust of not less than three and not more than five members. The provision also stipulates that one of them should be a woman and there should be a member belonging to the scheduled castes or tribes.
Regarding the process of selection and appointment of such trustees, it said that there are guidelines laid down by the government to ensure only deserving people are appointed. It refuted allegations of political favouritism in the appointment of trustees.
In the current phase, trustees would be appointed to 1045 temples within six months, it submitted. It added that while the appointment of trustees will take time, steps like the appointment of administrators have been taken to look after the day-to-day activities of the temple.
Why is there a demand for temple trustees to be appointed?
The demand is because there are widespread allegations of corruption, misuse, and mismanagement of funds in temples under the control of the department.
Some examples recently given by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president K Annamalai were the use of Rs 30 lakh from the funds of the Madurai Meenakshi temple to buy a car and the disappearance of 5309 cows from the possession of the Tiruchendur Muruga (Karthikeya) temple. He also highlighted a case in which the audit fees for a temple with an income of Rs 20 crore had come out to Rs 70 crore.
Activists like TR Ramesh, who want to free temples from government control, have said that in the case of many temples, the government had appointed Executive Officers illegally.
He has also pointed out that according to the Supreme Court judgement in the Chidambaram temple case, the government should take over temples only when there is mismanagement and hand it over back to trustees as soon as possible.
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