TN government to give away temple lands to squatters; Hindu temples to lose thousands of acres of patta lands
In 2018, the TN government had permitted the sale of temple lands to government departments and public-sector undertakings for public purposes. Now, it is bent on giving away temple lands which have been occupied by squatters. TN government’s war against Hindu temple properties continues unabated.
- TS Venkatesan
Despite dressing down by the High Court several times, TN government is bent on working against Hindus. The TN government has told the court that it had decided to give away vast tracts of temple lands legally to squatters, a decision which has come in for severe criticism from devotees. Perhaps, the present AIADMK regime could have taken a cue from the 2016 poll manifesto of its bête noire ( DMK).
It is a well-known fact that after the state coming under Dravidian rule in the late 70s after wresting power Congress rulers, their first target was the golden egg ie. Temples and trust properties. The temple, mutt and trusts' arable lands, revenue yielding properties have changed hands to atheists and party cadres in a steady, systematic and secret manner over the years. In temple inscriptions, one can find purpose for the donation. It also says , it will continue perpetually till Sun and Moon are in the universe and generations together.
Dravidian Parties eye Hindu Temple Lands
In the name of long lease (for 99 years) temple lands and properties were given for rent for paltry sums. The lessors mostly sub-leased or sub-let or acquired the lands through illegal means continued to enjoy uninterrupted possession. Some built massive structures, colleges, schools, Marriage halls to earn crores. Temple’s ponds, tanks were given way for super structures. To facilitate this in the name of managing the temples, the party cadres, non- believers of god and Hinduism were included in the administration as Executive officers, clerks, JCs, ACs and Commissioners. To protect the tenants from paying agricultural yields as rent or cash, slew of legislations and ordinances were brought in a continuous manner. Due to non-receipt of income, thousands of temples in villages and semi urban areas were closed and allowed to dilapidate without carrying out any repairs and maintenance. They can't offer even one day one time pooja with Prasad, lighting of lamps. Priests, who were in the temple without any income and spent their own resources, too abdicated their responsibilities inevitably to move to cities with their family for livelihood. Ramanathan, a priest in the 90s who lives with his wards in Chennai, remembered that Kings, philanthropists, people who had no issues, had bequeathed lands, properties to temples. Some even formed trusts to manage the same. They clearly spelt the income from which property to be used for which purpose and non-payment of revenue to the temple would incur god's wrath and suffer from sin for generations together. They donated vast tract of lands, properties, jewels, vessels and built so many temples with ponds, tanks. They acted as aquifers preventing water table from going down.
After the Dravidian parties came to power, there is a sea change. Atheists were inducted in temple management committees and trusts were filled with party cadre. Interestingly, they were given official patronage to swindle and amass wealth by misusing temple properties. These had resulted rare idols were smuggled to abroad through coteries. Precious jewels were interchanged with duplicate or imitation ones. Temple staff were not paid their meagre salaries regularly. like me, many had to give up our job and to move to other cities. Temple in major cities or famous temple are only getting sufficient income through offertory collections, various seva and darshan tickets, special entry tickets and other means. The pity is temple officials use this money to get luxury cars and equip their offices and residences with latest electronic gadgets like ACs, coolers, TVs, Fridges leaving the temple staff in lurch without regular salary.
In the 2016 TN state assembly poll manifesto, the Dravidian major DMK had clearly on Page 112 said ..." People occupying encroached Temple lands will be regularised and ownership transferred. On Page 85.. " Encroached Wakq properties will be reclaimed and handed over to wakf...".
Reacting to this BJP National Secretary H Raja immediately had condemned its minority appeasement policy. He said the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMKJ) promise to form a high-level committee led by a retired judge to consider the demand of people who are offering to purchase temple land within the legal framework has evoked strong criticism. He said. “The DMK is blatantly appeasing the minority. While the party will not consider giving patta to encroachers of Wakf Board land, they are ready to sell temple land without any qualms. Once the government started providing patta for temple land, it would pave the way for plundering of temple properties".
HC directs govt to safeguard Temple lands
The Madras High Court in February last year had issued a slew of directions to the State Government as well as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department to retrieve huge tracts of temple lands that had been either grabbed or under encroachment and to prevent further alienation of such immovable properties. Justice R. Mahadevan had ordered that public notices be issued forthwith informing land grabbers across the State to surrender the properties voluntarily to avoid penal action under Section 79B of the HR&CE Act of 1959. Failure to do so should be followed up with prosecution against them. The HR&CE Commissioner was asked to prepare and file a status report to the Revenue Secretary specifying the details of temple lands for which ‘patta’ had been issued in favour of encroachers/third parties. All Tahsildars and District Revenue Officers in the State must be instructed to refrain from issuing patta with respect to alienation of temple lands without obtaining written communication from the HR&CE officials.
The HR&CE department was also ordered to collate information about temple lands and upload it on its website in four weeks. The judge ordered that committees comprising HR&CE officials should be constituted for each region for making personal visits to temples in the State, identify lands belonging to them and find out the extent of encroachment. A detailed report on such encroachments should be filed in the court within six weeks. The judge also directed the HR&CE Commissioner to take departmental action against officials and temple trustees responsible for illegal transfer of temple properties. The directions were issued on a writ petition filed in the Madras High Court Bench in Madurai alleging alienation of lands belonging to a temple in Sivaganga district.
Recent statistics revealed that the extent of temple properties had reduced from 5.25 lakh acres to 4.78 acres in the last five years with nearly 50,000 acres lying with encroachers and land grabbers, the judge said: “The custodians of temple properties, be it the trustees or the HR&CE department, must bear in mind the object behind such donations to the temple.
In another ruling in September last year, Justice S M Subramaniam had directed the Commissioner to constitute special committees consisting of officials with proven integrity to ascertain all such illegalities and corrupt activities of various officials of HR&CE and conduct enquiries based on the inputs of such committees. The Commissioner is bound to initiate appropriate prosecutions under the Criminal law and disciplinary proceedings under the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, he added. The court was hearing a plea by the Adheenakarthar (trustee) of Vilankurichi Adheenam pertaining to 12.5 acres of land in Thiruvarur town and that the executive officer in connivance with the tenant was acting detrimental to the interest of the trust.
Passing orders on another writ petition related to many lessees of temple lands squatting over the properties without paying mounting arrears of rent, the judge ordered that public notices must be issued directing them to pay the arrears within four weeks or face prosecution under Section 34B of the HR&CE Act. The Madras High Court had questioned the decision of TN government that it would provide patta for encroachers of Hindu temple lands across Tamil Nadu. What signal the state was trying to send when such encroachments were already rampant?
Making encroachments legal
A division bench of Justice M Sathiya Narayanan and Justice N Seshasayee in September this year, said, technically, the government is trying to help encroachers by making the encroachments legal. Salem resident Radhakrishnan filed a petition questioning the GO issued on August 30, to regularise and issue patta in four of people who are in long possession of objectionable public land more particularly, in para 4 of the GO, wherein , it was stated that, temple lands would also be given to encroachers".
TN government in a counter affidavit filed by S Anandhan, Deputy Secretary , Revenue Department on 29th October 2019 said ,“It is not a blanket order and the encroachments in the temple lands will be taken up temple-wise, based on the availability of temple land and after getting concurrence of the Hindu religious and charitable endowments department”. It also said that the government had decided to grant patta for eligible poor families residing in temple lands for ‘considerable period of time’ and the land which are no longer required for the temple, but only after compensating the department.
To justify its decision, it had cited that a government order dated November 2, 2018 the state said that now temple lands are permitted to be sold for public purposes to government departments and public-sector undertakings. Accordingly, temple lands encroached by poor for residential purpose would be considered for purchase by the revenue department for grant of house-patta for eligible poor families, it added.
Hindu Temples fund anti-Hindu causes
Devotees and Hindus, sangh parivars have criticised the TN government for its decision to allow squatters to grab temple lands. They said "If it wants, it can give its poramboke lands and not the temple lands. How could the government identify the poor? What yard stick it would apply? It would be ultimately given to party functionaries with the help of revenue HR and CE officials. Already squatters on government lands, river beds were given alternative housing at the government costs. But the practice had not ended. Seeing this, others setup huts and temporary dwellings on government lands and refused to move away, hoping for a pucca cost free houses from the government.
The occupants of the illegal huts (sandies) enjoy power, water connection, ration card, voter ID and Aadhar cards. The present move would help drain temple coffers which are already facing severe resource crunch and lure more to occupy temple and government properties without any fear.
For Hindu temple, the state electricity boards charges Rs 8 per unit whereas it is 2.85 for Churches and mosques. Was it a blatant appeasement by the state? Ask devotees. HR&CE gets crores of rupees but never spends for any maintenance and upkeep of the temple, salaries of its employees but squander them for their whims and fancies. Hindu Munnani founder Ramagopalan has condemned the government’s move and wanted its roll back. He said TN government at the time of enacting the law said that HR and CE was set up primarily to maintain, protect the temple and its properties and avoid any alienations. It was objected at that time by us. We feared that temples, embodiment and hub of Hindu religion and this enactment would destroy and delink the temples from the god fearing society and its members” he added.
Advocate B Jagannath , who is planning to file a petition in the Madras High Court, has to say the following points: This Government Order has been issued ultimately with an innocuous aim which is to rob Hindu Gods through their temples and pay to Squatters and encroachers - beneficiaries being the Lap dogs of Politicians and bureaucrats in Tamilnadu. The Government Order has to be struck down as unjustified, unfortunately unreasonable, unfair and as illegal and void for various reasons- the important being the following:
* The HR and CE Act is a legislation passed in 1959 as an Improvised Act of Madras Religious Endowment Act 1927 which has many provisions including various noble ones with specific safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the valuable temple land one of the major revenue generating and income delivery assets of the Hindu temples mostly donated as In…
* A bare perusal and plain reading of Section 78 makes it clear that safeguards provided in the legislation by the framers of the Act are sufficient even today to protect the property of temple.
* The present Government Order is ultra vires to these provisions as it also aims to hand over possession of even those lands encroached to the so called poor people.
* There are Catena of judgements of various Division Benches of the Honourable Madras High Court and the Supreme Court which emphasises on the protection of valuable temple lands.
* Hence the Government Order In Question would not stand the test of legality before this Hon'ble Court if the legality is Questioned before the Court and would rightly be struck down as illegal and void and ultra-vires to the Act of 1959.
The Government through the Department of HR&CE is the Custodian and Trustee of the Temple lands across Tamil Nadu listed or non- listed alike. The mere fact that the Officials in the Department taking salary and basic pay through the income of these temples could even conceive, conspire such an action against the temple lands exposes the failure in responsibilities, duties and obligations of the Government officers. Therefore also on this grounds the Government Order has to be struck down as Illegal. It's a well settled established principle of law that a Secular Government cannot interfere with the basic religious rights of individuals more so in the present case the Hindus. This Act, deed and conduct of the Government officials exposes their true intentions which is against our Sanatana Dharma. This is in direct violation of Articles 14, 21 and 25 and hence the Government Order is liable to be struck down as illegal, void and unconstitutional.
The Government Order is against the intent and has struck at the very objective of the Legislation namely the 1959 Act and hence the Government Order in question would not stand the test of legality before the Madras High Court if the same is questioned and the chances of it striking down as illegal and void and ultra vires to the Act of 1959 are bright. The Government Order is directly discriminatory and is passed without application of mind and is aimed at the destruction of Revenue Generation Source of our Sanatana Dharma by various forces including from Abroad. This is a serious issue for the Government to explain, introspect and ponder and also give a clear legitimate explanation that they owe to the Hindu Devotees at large.