Observing that temples have perpetual right of possession and enjoyment over parcels of temple land, the Madras high court made it clear that the state government cannot use temple lands for any purpose other than for holding religious functions.
“This court, time and again observed that temples in Tamil Nadu are not only a source of identification of the ancient culture, but also a testimony of pride and knowledge of the talent in the field of arts, science and sculpture and a conduit for spiritual activities as well,” Justice R Mahadevan said on Wednesday.
The court also directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to identify and safeguard all temple lands from encroachers with an officer in charge filing periodical reports.
“It is made clear that the land parcels belonging to the subject temples shall not be alienated or leased or encumbered illegally and against the interests of such temples,” the court said.
The case pertains to the encroachment of lands of the Sakthi Muthamman temple near Neelankarai and the Kottai Mariamman temple in Salem. The court also observed that the properties of religious institutions, particularly temples, have to be maintained properly.
"However, the HR&CE Department, which is the custodian of the temple properties, has not taken any steps to protect the interests of temples, though the subject falls within its purview. Such a callous attitude on their part cannot be countenanced," added the court.
The court ordered the removal of all encroachments from temple lands and directed the Commissioner, HR&CE Department, to take action in retrieving the lands by removing all the encroachments, if any, and maintain them.
"The HR&CE Department shall take steps to start construction by putting a compound wall to secure and safety of the subject lands. Except for temple related purposes, the lands shall not be used for any other purposes. The officer authorised by the Commissioner, HR&CE Department shall maintain a proper register with respect to the financial aspects of the subject temples and its properties and file the same before the authority concerned at regular intervals," said the court.