Land belonging to 1000-yr old Dhenupureeswarar temple in Chennai encroached and illegal private building being constructed; Involvement of Temple staff and HR&CE officials alleged

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- TS Venkatesan

TN Temple Land_1 &nb
Illegal commercial complex being constructed on the land which belongs to 1000-yr old Dhenupureeswarar temple at Madambakkam, Chennai (Image courtesy: Dinamalar)
The negligence, dereliction of duty and total apathy have caused the Chola era temple to lose its land worth Rs 140 crore to influential land mafia. However, nearly 7 acres 57 cents of land belonging to the 1,000-year-old Dhenupureeswarar temple at Madambakkam on Rajakilpakkam-Madambakkam Main road is being grabbed by some private parties. A mega commercial complex is being illegally built, and the construction activities are on full swing.
The Dhenupureeswarar temple at Madambakkam, a suburb of Tambaram-Velacherry, was built by Paranthaga Chola during the 10th century. Kulothunga Chola rebuilt it with additions done later by the successive Cheras, Pallavas and Vijayanagara Kings. It is now under the care of ASI and Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Endowment (HR & CE) dept. It is also a UNESCO listed heritage site.
The legend of the presiding deity Dhenupureeswarar goes back to the time of the Puranas. Over the centuries, several kings and others have gifted vast tracts of land, buildings and jewels to this temple. According to the locals, most of the temple lands are in the form of agricultural lands and residential buildings. One N.C Selvakumar, president of Madambakkam Traders Association and owner of Shanthi Hardware allegedly encroached the land. But the ASI seems to be deaf in the matter. The commercial complex that is being constructed has a ground and a first floor.
Residents of Madambakkam say that the illegal construction is happening with the connivance of temple staff and other HR and CE officials. When they brought it to the attention of the higher officials, no action was taken to recover the land from the encroacher. "The HR and CE higher officials had even threatened the people who made complaints. Already 95 per cent of the temple properties have been under illegal possession; now the 7 acres is also encroached. Its market value is estimated to be around Rs 140 crores. If the temple authorities recover the properties, it will generate Rs. 10 crores per annum", they explained.
Madambakkam Village Administrative Officer (VAO) said, "The temple EO Sivakumar had requested us to get back the land from the encroacher as it belonged to temple. He had also requested us to survey the land under illegal possession. During the verification, it was found that the temple is the legal owner of the parcel of the land under dispute. It was duly intimated to Tehsildar. Since it is the temple land, EO can only take action with the help of police."
Temple EO Sivakumar told a Tamil daily that they have complained to the Selaiyur police on March 22. He said "In the wake of Corona, there was a delay in taking action. The construction works that were stopped during lockdown is being resumed now following relaxation. We have also moved Chengleput sessions court seeking a stay on construction work. We have discussed it with Tambaram Tehasildar to recover the encroached land, and he assured action soon".
Advocate B Jagannath, who deals with temple property cases, said "HR and CE Act was promulgated in 1959 with necessary safeguards in place to protect the valuable assets of the temple. Section 29 to 31 deals with Maintaining a Register and it's verification annually which is called the Register (1-15 book) that shall contain all details of a land - Starting from Survey number, Door number, Boundaries, Extent, Classification of land, If it has been donated the name of the Donor along with the purpose of such donation towards the temple and its specific usage, details of the document Registered if any as donations in favour of the temple, along with the details of Patta, Chitta, Adangal, EC, VAO Certification, A Register and other documents are a foolproof watertight method to prevent any encroachment from taking place".
He further said "The 1963 Rules also lay down the manner in which the said property shall be given for lease or rent through public auction by the Executive Officer of the temple. Section 77 to 81 of the Act very specifically deals with Removal of Encroachment where the procedure has been laid down elaborating the method of removal of such encroachments. A special provision is where the police are duty-bound as a statutory obligation to cooperate with the HR and CE official to remove such Encroachment upon a request being given by the Executive Officer of the temple."
Jagannath briefed that the Act has provision for 'Land Audit wherein specifically the Regional Audit Officer of that particular zone shall complete the Audit as per the Act and shall submit the Audit Report to the Chief Audit Officer in Nungambakkam every Fazli year (June-July) ". He said "the collapse of the administration and colossal failure of the HR and CE has ensured over the decades that valuable temple lands were encroached upon and many temples are left without income from these lands for its use.
It is most unfortunate that as a matter of faith of the Hindus this has happened to the temples and the Hindu Deities which highlight that most of the Officers, not all are downright corrupt, inefficient and have hatred towards Dharma.
Jagannath said "HR and CE is the classic example of appointing the Land Grabber as Custodian of Temple properties. In the instant case of the Executive Officer has taken pains to make the report, get the clarification from VAO and Tehsildar that land belongs to the temple and has given the complaint to the Selaiyur police which, as usual, turned a blind eye. It has failed to take action till date which shows their nexus with the land grabbers of temple property."
Like Wakf board, temple properties should be administered by an individual group of people who have faith in Hinduism and Hindu deities. The HR and CE should be disbanded, which is draining the income of our temples. It can be recalled that in neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, unsuccessful attempts were made to sell temple lands and properties during the COVID19 lockdown to rake in money for the governments.