Srirangam temple wins major legal battle in Supreme Court – The Hindu –

[2/20, 10:12] Sekarreporter: Srirangam temple wins major legal battle in Supreme Court – The Hindu – https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/srirangam-temple-wins-major-legal-battle-in-supreme-court/article30865208.ece
[2/20, 10:12] Sekarreporter: Mohamed Imranullah S.
20 FEBRUARY 2020 01:29 IST
UPDATED: 20 FEBRUARY 2020 08:17 IST

Authoritative pronouncement prevents sale of endowed properties

After having lost three successive legal battles before a sub court, followed by a district court and then the Madras High Court, the Idol of Sriranganathaswamy, represented by the Executive Officer of Srirangam temple in Tiruchi, has finally won a significant case before the Supreme Court on preventing sale of immovable properties by the descendants of those who had endowed them hundreds of years ago for specific performance of religious charities.

Justices Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi on Wednesday held that even if a property had not been specifically dedicated in the name of the deity of a temple, still, it would fall under the term ‘specific endowment’ and get covered by the provisions of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Act of 1959 if a reading of the settlement deed proves that the intention of the settlor was to create a public charity associated with a Hindu festival.

The judgment was delivered in connection with 25,000 square feet of land at Srirangam purchased by businessman P.K. Thoppulan Chettiar for ₹3,000 on June 2, 1887 for performing religious charity. He had constructed a mandapam on 4,135 square feet of the total extent of land for inviting the deity during special occasions and used to supply drinking water and millet porridge to the devotees on those days from Mahimai (God’s account) fund established from his granary business.

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In 1901, he executed a deed of settlement prohibiting the sale or mortgage of the entire property and directing his descendants to continue the charitable activities, after his death, from their income. However, in April 1978, the property was leased out to a private firm which in turn sub-let it to various third parties. Meanwhile, about 2,500 square feet of the property also got encroached forcing PK Thoppulan Chettiar Ramanuja Koodam Anandhana Trust to file a suit for eviction.

The trust, in 2004, suddenly decided to sell away 20,865 square feet of the land, leaving aside the mandapam portion alone, in order to generate finances required for continuing the charitable activities. It filed a suit before a sub court seeking permission for the sale. However, the temple management intervened and claimed that the permission should be sought only from the Commissioner of HR&CE department and not from the court as per the provisions of the 1959 Act.

The objections raised by the temple management was turned down by three successive judicial forums on the ground that the trust in question was a private trust and not a public trust. Disagreeing with the view taken by those courts, the apex court ruled that if the beneficiaries of a trust were either the public at large or an amorphous and fluctuating body of persons incapable of being specifically identifiable, such a trust or charity would gain a public character. “In the present case, the Deed of Settlement states that the charity is to be carried for the benefit of the devotees who visit during certain Hindu religious festivals. The charity is one which benefits the public and the beneficial interest is created in an uncertain and fluctuating body of persons. The devotees as a class of beneficiaries are not definitive and therefore, the respondent trust is a public trust,” Justice Chandrachud wrote.

Claim rejected

He also rejected the claim of the trustees that theirs was a secular trust established for the public in general without any distinction on grounds of religion, caste or creed and that its charitable activities were not restricted only to Hindus.

“The activities of the first respondent trust have a connection with Chithirai Gajendra Moksham and Padi Eighteen festivals and the charity is to be carried on for the benefit of the devotees of Sri Ranganathaswamy sanctum.

“The festivals are Hindu religious festivals and the use of the expression ‘devotees’ indicates that there exists a direct nexus and association between the public charity described in the Deed of Settlement and the Hindu religious festivals. Reference to ‘devotees’ in the Deed of Settlement also indicates that the endowment is not of a secular nature. The charity which is described in the Deed of Settlement is a public charity associated with a Hindu religious festival,” he concluded.

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