Madras High Court cancels tender notification by EO of Palani temple; Suggests formation of temple trust board with eminent Hindus to manage temple affairs

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Palani Temple TR Ramesh_1
T R Ramesh, President of Temple Worshippers Society (Right) had questioned the legal authority of the EO of Palani Dhandayuthapani swamy temple to issue tender notification for house cleaning.
The Madras High Court has cancelled the tender notification for house- keeping contract issued by the Executive officer of Palani Hill Temple and declared EO position is illegal. It will have far reaching consequences and will add strength to the movement to free the temples from the Government control. Many view it as the first step towards this direction.
T R Ramesh, President of Temple Worshippers Society had questioned the legal authority of Palani Dhandayuthapani swamy temple (one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga) Executive Officer (EO) to issue tender notification for house cleaning. Ramesh contended “By entrusting the cleaning and maintenance works to outsiders in the name of house- keeping contract, the temple management has infringed the rights of devotees. He said in his petition that the temple did not have a regular trust board for almost a decade. The EO acts as an ex-officio –Fit person. Such an official can’t take major decisions having financial implications. The impugned tender notification is violative of the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act , 1959 (HR and CE)”.
In the counter affidavit, the second respondent namely the EO, objected that the petitioner was not an aggrieved individual and the writ petition could not maintainable. “ if at all the petitioner wants to espouse the subject, he must file a Public Interest Litigation(PIL). Being a renowned temple it attracts lakhs of devotees. Catering to sanitation, maintenance and cleanliness of the institution is of supreme importance. It requires systematic deployment of manpower. The house-keeping contract system is already in vogue. Since the period of contract expired, it became necessary to issue the impugned notification. In any event temple management permits performance of voluntary service by the devotees such as cleaning of the dining hall” it said. He admitted that as on date, the temple had no board of trustees by saying Fit person is entitled to discharge the functions of the trust board.
As such, notification could not be faulted. Government pleader who appeared for the commissioner HR and CE and Secretary to TN Government (HR and CE) had adopted the stand of EO in their counter affidavit.
The case was heard by Justice G R Swami Nathan. While disposing of his writ petition (MD) No.10903 of 2020 and WMP (MD) Nos 9581 and 9582 of 2020, the judge pronounced the order on 23rd. In his order the Judge made it clear that the petitioner had the locus standi to question the issue of notification. He accepted the stand of the petitioner that devotees are entitled to offer voluntary service known as “Uzhavara Pani” (Kar seva).
Dismissing the contention, the Judge held that under Article 25 of the Constitution it is a fundamental right to freely practice one’s religion. In the case of Hindus, it would include the right to perform Uzhavara Pani. Temple management can regulate but can’t deny. As a worshipper, the petitioner is entitled to insist that the affairs of the temple are conducted in accordance with the provisions of HR and CE act. There was no need to raise the issues only in PIL.
The judge said “a non-hereditary trustee can occupy the office only for a specific period. But in the instant case, for more than nine years and three months, the temple has been under the management of the Executive Officer who doubles as a Fit Person…. I would observe that there should not be any Executive Officer/Fit Person-raj in the second respondent temple”.
The judge explained that as per rule 11 of Collection of Income and incurring Expenditure rules, no expenditure shall be incurred without the written order of the trustees. The trustees shall satisfy himself that the expenditure is necessary and it has budgetary sanction. The impugned tender notification has considerable financial implications.”
The Hon’ble judge said that the respondents could not fall back on earlier notifications under Madras Act of 1927. He said “ in my view this contention is correct, fresh proceedings will have to be issued under section 45 of the Act”.
The judge pointed out that the EO was appointed for the temple originally under Madras Act of 1927. He says “Continuing the said arrangement is illegal. A worshipper is certainly entitled to bring to the notice of this court…. I reject the contention. It has been filed by a devotee. When the interests of temples are involved, this court cannot adopt a technical approach. Nor will it look the other way. It is duty of the court to ensure that the administration of the second respondent is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Act 22 of 1959 and the rules framed thereunder. The tender notification has been issued by an official who is standing on this ice. Its tenuous nature has already been set out. In any event, a Fit person cannot issue a notification of this nature. I therefore, sustain the stand of the petitioner and quash the impugned tender notification”.
The judge, citing an editorial in the New Indian Express which says “Reconstituting temple trust boards with eminent Hindus and men of impeccable character would be a good start. Leaving the temple in the care of the bureaucracy and politicians hasn’t helped…”. The judge said these words are equally relevant to the State of Tamil Nadu. The petition is allowed without costs.
Reacting this, Sai Deepak tweeted “absolutely scintillating judgment delivered by d Madurai Bench of the Madras HC on 22/9/2020 in a petition by Shri @trramesh, president of [email protected], challenging a tender notification issued by d Executive officer of d Palani temple”.
T R Ramesh said “Palani temple –the highest grossing temple in Tamil Nadu. Position of Executive Officer declared illegal. Fabulous order. Biggest victory for Hindus in recent times. My pranams to advocate S Parathasarathi of Madurai who argued my case”