A public interest litigation petition has been filed in the Madras High Court questioning the authority of the State government and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to force 20 financially stable temples to spare ₹10 crore from their surplus funds for the renovation of 1,000 village temples.

Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha are slated to hear on Monday the PIL petition filed by Rangarajan Narasimhan of Srirangam in Tiruchi district. Claiming that it was not a one-off incident and that it had become a common practice for HR&CE officials to divert temple funds at will, he has sought for a thorough inquiry and auditing. The petitioner said the Chief Minister had made an announcement in the Legislative Assembly on March 24 for providing ₹10 crore to renovate 1,000 financially unstable village temples under the control of the HR&CE Department.

Proposal accepted

Subsequently, the HR&CE Commissioner forwarded a proposal to pool in the money from surplus funds of other temples. The proposal was accepted and a Government Order was issued on May 15. It was followed by the HR&CE Commissioner’s June 26 proceedings for using about ₹25 lakh to 1 crore from the surplus funds of 20 temples, which included the Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameswaram and the Subramaniaswamy Temple in Tiruchendur.

Executive officers of the Kabaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, the Vadapalani Aandavar Temple, the Subramaniaswamy Temple in Marudhamalai, the Bannari Amman Temple, the Parathasarathaswamy Temple in Triplicane, the Kallazhagar Temple at Alagarkovil in Madurai, the Kamatchiamman Temple in Mangadu and others were also instructed to contribute.

Assailing such a directive issued by the HR&CE Commissioner, the petitioner said the HR&CE Act empowers the Department only to have a supervisory control over the temples which should otherwise by managed by their individual Board of Trustees.

Any decision on parting with surplus funds should emanate from the temple management and then sent to the HR&CE department for approval.

However, it has been happening the other way round in the State for long with the HR&CE department issuing diktats to temple managements to part with their funds for various purposes, he said.

The litigant pointed out that the HR&CE Commissioner had issued a circular in April this year for transferring another ₹10 crore from surplus funds of 47 temples to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to feed the poor during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, it was withdrawn in May after protests from various people interested in the autonomy of religious institutions.Τ

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