TN government withdraws order asking Hindu Temples to contribute to CM Relief Fund after HC deems it untenable

    06-May-2020
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The TN High Court accepted that petitioners argument that the govt circular ‘per se’ was illegal and ‘non-est’ in law for the reasons that the HR and CE commissioner had exceeded his jurisdiction in issuing the controversial circular asking temples to donate.
- TS Venkatesan

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At last sane counsel has prevailed on the Tamil Nadu government after it was told that its order asking 47 big temples to donate Rs 10 crores to CM’s Covid 19 relief fund was deemed untenable in law by the High Court based on the patitions filed against the govts order. Organiser had reported on the govt's controversial order over which unhappy netizens vented their ire on social media.
 
T R Ramesh of Hindu Temple worshippers Society and several other petitioners sought a stay on the circular while Tamil daily Dinamalar editor R R Gopaljee and Hindu Munnani Lawyer Kutthalanathan filed Public interest litigation against the circular.
 
TR Ramesh informed Organiser that he had objected that the amounts were not voluntary but fixed by the Commissioner which was misuse of power. He said the provision 36-B was meant for annadhan run by temples only and rules prescribes a minimum of 30 days’ notice to the public and other stakeholders inviting their suggestions and objections. Ramesh pointed out that the trustees only could transfer funds after deliberations and passing resolutions. He said since 2011 only government nominees are appointed as "Fit Persons" instead of trustees.
 
“The circular is in violation of Section 23 TN HR and CE Act, 1959, and the concept of better management of temples. The fit person’s tenure could be only for less than three months and he can authorize expenses and salary of temple staff only. He cannot transfer funds or make proposals”, his counsel argued before a bench comprising Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Sathyanarayana. Ramesh also said the approving authority viz the Commissioner cannot direct temples to transfer.
 
Tamil Nadu Seva Bharathi State president and Advocate B Rabu Manohar who appeared for the petitioner Ramesh in his argument said that the impugned circular ‘per se’ was illegal and ‘non-est’ in law for the reasons that the HR and CE commissioner has exceeded his jurisdiction in issuing the said circular. He said , "instead of following these mandatory provisions, the HR and CE in his circular had directed the trustees of 47 temples to transfer the excess funds violating all mandatory principles”. He said the judges accepted our arguments and questioned the special government pleader HR and CE as to how he could defend the order passed by the Commissioner HR and CE.
 
TN government on the backfoot 
 
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TN governemnt withdraws the order for Hindu Temples to donate after HC deemed it unteanble 
 
Upon hearing the same, the Government pleader submitted that he has got instructions that the government has decided to withdraw the circular. The court on 4th May passed an order directing the TN government to withdraw the impugned order and file an affidavit to this effect on 8th May. It also said the impugned circular should not be implemented and recorded that till date no temple funds were transferred. This case is now adjourned to 8th for reporting withdrawal of the circular.
 
For the State government, liquor shops and Temple income are milching cows and it is solely dependent on the moolah generated from it. But spending and alienating the income from temple and its properties other than the intended and specific purposes, went unchecked till the devotees started objecting to them. There were no standard checks and audits. The recent one is the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department’s circular on 22nd April which made 47 temples to compulsorily contribute a substantial amount from their surplus fund to the Chief relief Fund.
 
The devotees and temple protection groups went up in arms and questioned the rationale behind the move. They suspected that the money offered by faithful Hindu devotees are squandered on other religions which do not contribute a single penny to the exchequer.
 
Temple Money for Dravidian politics 

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Successive Dravidian governments have indulged in vote bank politics and in doling out largesse to minorities in all possible means. Right from scholarships to monthly remuneration to kazis, Islamic preachers, funding their Mecca pilgrimage and no-interference policy in their properties and mosque administration. To mollify the minorities, they brought in slew of ordinances against compulsory religious conversion, ban on religious sacrificing of animals, and the then government led by late J Jayalalitha in 2001 announced a free rice scheme to Muslims during Ramzan fasting month. This year also the government had announced to give 5,450 ton of fine quality rice.
 
Earlier also when the HR and CE tried to give away the temple properties to squatters, it was put on track by the court. TR Ramesh, last November, filed a PIL challenging the Go 318 Revenue dept. of TN government dated 30th September 2019 saying pattas would be issued to encroachers of temple lands after the commissioner sends proposals of alienation of such lands to government. “The court stayed the GO. The state government filed a petition to vacate the stay for alienation of 600 acres. Government moved this petition without following the court order which mandated recording biometric fingerprint of all encroachers in temple lands”.
 
Advocate B Jagganath said there is a provision for land, Thirupani, Idol, Jewel audits besides annual audits. "I had filed a case last year against the TN government and withdrew it as they assured to give details. But gave only information on few temples” he said.