How Appointments Of Executive Officers By Tamil Nadu HRCE Department Are Without Any Statutory Support

How Appointments Of Executive Officers By Tamil Nadu HRCE Department Are Without Any Statutory Support

by M R Subramani - Jan 15, 2019 10:29 AM +05:30 IST
How Appointments Of Executive Officers By  Tamil Nadu HRCE Department Are Without Any Statutory SupportThe corridors of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple. (Wikimedia Commons)
  • Executive officers have been largely blamed for the administrative ills temples in Tamil Nadu are suffering, and the irony is that there is no legal sanctity in the appointments of these officers by the HRCE Department.

The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) Department has come under public scrutiny in the last few years over various controversies, beginning from illegal occupation of temples to theft and smuggling of idols. In particular, executive officers (EOs) appointed by the department are being blamed for various ills affecting temple administration in the state.

The irony is, however, that there is no legal sanctity in the appointments of the EOs by the Tamil Nadu HRCE Department.

Executive officers appointed in any of the 44,119 state temples by the HRCE Department are illegal since the rules that were required to be framed and approved by the legislature were notified on 5 November 2015 only, according to T R Ramesh of the Temple Worshippers Society. The society is one of the organisations fighting maladministration in the state temples.

In 1965, the Supreme Court quashed the continuation of EOs to 45 temples under Chapter VI of Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1927. The apex court struck down a state government order extending government control of the 45 temples, including the Madurai Meenakshi, Srirangam Sri Ranganathan and Thiruvannamalai Sri Arunachaleswarar temples. There is some background to this.

In 1926, the then Madras government enacted the Hindu Religious Endowments Act. The act specifically had provisions under Section VI A giving powers to a board, comprising a president and commissioners, to issue show cause notices to temples for their takeover. The provisions allowed a temple to appeal against the decision of a takeover by the board.

After the Indian Constitution came into force in 1950, the Madras government act for temples takeover was repealed and a new Act XIX of 1951 came into force. This also enabled the creation of the HRCE Department in Tamil Nadu.

In 1959, the state government came up with a new Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act. This law validated all notifications of the 1951 Act.

The validation of the 1951 act was despite a constitution bench of the Supreme Court striking down Sections 63-69 of Chapter VI of the 1951 act in the 1954 Shirur Mutt case. This meant the act that notified Hindu religious institutions was declared void as the apex court found the provisions in Sections 63-69 for takeover of a temple extremely drastic.

The 1959 act was challenged again and thus came the 1965 apex court ruling, striking down the notification through which the temple administration was taken over in the 45 temples. The Tamil Nadu government, however, amended the act by introducing Sections 75-A, 75-B and 75-C to extend the validity of the 1959 act until 15 July 1966.

A few days before the 1959 act expired in 1966, the Tamil Nadu government appointed an executive officer to the Palani Dhandayuthapani temple, terming it would be a permanent post.

Ramesh says all appointments of EOs have been made under Section 45 of the 1959 Act - the only provision used by HRCE Commissioner on or after 1 January 1960 to appoint executive officers. All these appointments till 5 November 2015 are not sustainable as they have no legal authority.

The appointments under Section 45 were made without assigning any reason or specifying the term of office. Conditions that had to be prescribed under the section were never spelt out.

A feature of a 1965 Supreme Court ruling was that it said the commissioner or deputy commissioner or the court is not bound, by framing a scheme, to appoint an executive officer and a case must be me made for such appointments.

The judgement said the executive officers administered the entire temple with hardly any power left to the trustee. Such provisions were only necessary when the temple was mismanaged or there were other compelling circumstances for such an appointment.

The 1965 ruling of the Supreme Court has been complemented by another ruling of the apex court in the Chidambaram temple case. In its ruling on a case filed by Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy in support of administration of ‘Podu Dikshitars’, the apex court struck down the appointment of EO by the state government.

The Supreme Court observed that under the 1959 act, the executive officer appointment could not be exercised when no explanation had been given for such an appointment. The appointment order does not disclose the reasons or the circumstance necessitating the appointment.

Moreover, the apex court said in its ruling that the executive officer appointment cannot be in perpetuity and it can only be a temporary measure until the problems get a remedy.

Even if a temple management is taken over to set right any evil, the management must be handed back immediately after a remedy is found for the evil or irregularity. The continuation of an executive officer tantamounts to violation of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of the temple administration, and any takeover can only be for a limited period.

The apex court reasoning for a takeover was that it could be done only to rectify a mistake and it cannot be a power to administer for an indefinite period. According to Ramesh, the takeover of the temples is a deliberate move to prevent the traditional role of trustees and stop devotees from rendering voluntary services.

The takeover has resulted in maladministration with the appointed officers failing to realise dues from the temple properties and utilising the income for the temple development, according to the Temple Worshippers Society chief, who alleges that temples have been defiled and desecrated by HRCE administration.

The irony is that the Tamil Nadu HRCE Department appoints EOs under section 45 of the HRCE act. Under this, cases have to be made out for an appointment of an executive officer for a temple. But no case has been made for the appointment of any officer. The orders also do not state the period for which the EOs will be in charge of the temple.

In a Right to Information query, Ramesh had sought from the HRCE Department the letter of appointment of the first executive officer for 12 temples like the Madurai Meenakshi Amman, Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy and Thiruvannamalai Sri Arunachaleswarar, and provisions of law under which such appointments were made.

The HRCE has been unable to provide any proof. It has merely responded by saying that such appointments have been made by following the relevant rules!

With all issues relating to temples administration in Tamil Nadu heading to the courts, a solution to the appointments of EOs will likely be found by the courts, hopefully, soon.

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

Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

An Appeal...

Dear Reader,

As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.

Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.

We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.

Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.

Become A Patron
Become A Subscriber
Comments ↓
Get Swarajya in your inbox everyday. Subscribe here.

Latest Articles

    Artboard 4Created with Sketch.