Tamil Nadu's HR & CE's arbitrary illegal control over temples continues unabated

damaged Meenakshi temple, Madurai newindianexpress.com

Above image: Meenakshi  temple, East tower Mandapam near 1000 pillar hall, Madurai city.  Roughly 7000 sq ,ft of Vasantharayar  mandapam replete with amazing sculptures, etc., was damaged in a fire mishap in one of shops selling puja items. Fire broke out in early February, 2018. The shops were let out by the HR & CE in the historical hall to make money. Now  the hall is restored, but the charm is lost. ........
temple demolition, Coimbatore city, TN. vervetimes.com/

Coimbatore city, demolition of 7 Hindu temples. twitter.com

Above image: Coimbatore  city corporation Authorities  in July, 2021 demolished 7 Temples in Tank bund, Muthannankulam after relocating about  300 Families from 14 Acre area by marking it as ''Encroached''. This was done as part of smart city project. One of the temples was more than 120 year old. Using earthmovers, and heavy machinery officials razed Amman  Kovil, Bannari Amman Kovil,  Angala Parameswari, Karupparayan Kovil, Muneeswaran Kovil and a few other temples, reports The Hindu. Reason : to develop new lake bund and  HR & CE was a mute spectator. There was no referendum on the proposed demolition of the temples. "The increasing incidents of demolition of temples in the State in the name of encroachment, will lead to mistrust  and  hatred against the TN  government," said  the  heads of four Mutts  The TN Govt should intervene and stop demolition of Hindu temples.  Local devotees were in rage........... 

In December, 2022, the SC sought   Tamil Nadu govt's response on a petition filed by the 'Indic Collective Trust, that made a serious allegation that HR&CE had taken over  38,000 temples illegally and asked the TN govt to recall EOs appointed at temples.

Tamil Nadu govt recruited  executive officials close to the ruling party without nominating temple trustees. This move by the state governments would further result in abuse of temple revenues, properties and  puja traditions inherent to the temples.  A bench consisting of CJI DY Chandrachud  and Justice PS Narasimha heard the case on December 13, 2022 and sought  a response from the state government.  The petition stated that while the Conditions for the  Appointment of Executive Officers Rules, 2015 limit their duration  to a maximum of five years, the  EO recruited by the state authorities were nominated indefinitely with no conditions specified in their appointment orders. It means they are holding the posts illegally

The petitioner got the attention of the SC that the state had violated the Articles 25, 26 and 29 of the Constitution of India by appointing Executive Officers in the temples of Tamil Nadu.  It means EOs armed with powers are illegally controlling the temple management. against the wish of the  devotees and in violation of Agama sastras.  The petitioner mentioned numerous examples as to how the EOs, took arbitrary decisions  related to countless unnecessary  projects and building  activities costing crores of rupees.  The officials take a cut in  such project works by way of "commission". At stake is the heritage aspect of  historical temples  where illegal constructions of mediocre buildings, shopping malls, AC rooms for the officials, etc were going on  with impunity. ''Complete take over of the  temples by EOs without any valid reason is in complete violation of the law,” the petition  mentioned.

Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan, counsel for the petitioner, argued that  the EOs diverted temple cash  - hundial  donations  from devotees  to meet their salaries and other non-religious uses. He also  emphasized the fact  that in the last 70 years HR & CE had never  returned a single temple to the trustee or the community involved after taking over temple administration. It is roughly equal to retrieving a bundle of  fresh sugarcane given to an hungry elephant.

Among the temples in TN, there are 36,627 temples, 57 temples and 17 temples that come under the  management of the holy Mutts and Jaina Mutts respectively. It is reported that of them 88.22%  are under the  grip of the HR & CE Department and have an annual income of less than Rs. 10,000.

The petition asked that the State of Tamil Nadu to recognize all Executive Officers who are serving without legitimate appointment orders, who were nominated without valid reasons, or who were hired under Sections 43-A or 45 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, prior to the implementation of the Conditions for Appointment of Executive Officers Rules, 2015.

In the last decade or so many temples lost a big chunk of their landed properties due to HR & CE' s corrupt administration. If complaints are given to the local police station, no action will be taken by the police. In many cases complainants will be threatened by the temple officials and their punks.  

In 2021 The Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HR & CE)  proudly announced that they   retrieved temple properties worth more than Rs 1,543 crores from 424 encroachments on lands  comprising 407 acres in the last  8 months  according  to TOI report dated  December 7, 2021. HR & CE identified the retrieved properties using the latest technology - .differential global position system (DGPS) and onsite rover survey to trace the lost properties.  The paradox is HR & CE never revealed the names of the encroachers or violators of law. Nor did they seek court's intervention to book the culprits. The reason why they avoided the identity of the violators was invariably  the violators were local netas or relatives of higher ranking members of the ruling party.    

 In the last three months across Tamil Nadu  are furious over the large scale abuse of temple lands, violation of traditional norms of the historic temples with respect to festivals, puja protocols and construction of shopping malls, Kalyana mandapams, etc. The money could have been spent to restore countless dilapidated temples across the state.