The Madras High Court slammed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department for taking a unilateral decision to spend 45 crores from Palani, Nellai and Chennai temples to build old age homes.
A Division Bench of Justices G R Swaminathan and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, while hearing a PIL petition filed by TR Ramesh of temple worshipper’s body, seeking a direction to quash the move of the state government to utilize the temple funds to establish the old age homes. He submitted that the State government had made an announcement on January 12 of using the funds’ worth Rs 35 crore of various HR and CE temples to establish the senior citizen homes in the state, which is against the TN HR&CE Act. The petitioner said HR and CE minister P. K. Sekar Babu announced on the floor of the Assembly on September 4 last year that old age residences with all facilities would be started in Chennai, Palani and Tirunvelvi. A GO was issued on January 12, deciding to use Rs. 15.2 crore from Palani Dhandayudhampani Swamy, Rs.13.5 crore from Nellaippar temple in Tirunelveli and Rs.16.3 crore from Devi Baaliamman temple in Chennai. Petitioner questioned the authority of the HR and CE to take such a decision.
“There are no trustees or hereditary trustees serving in many temples in the State. However, the government has been appointing government employees to the post of executive officers and they are exercising the duties of the trustees which is against the law. Therefore, the government appointed EOs could not sanction the temple funds without the consent of the trustees for establishing the old age homes,” the petitioner argued.
Responding to the submissions, the AG informed that the government is taking steps to fill the trustees’ vacancies by appointing the government committees. “Therefore, the temple funds will not be used for the next six weeks for establishing any old age homes,” he told the court.
The Bench said they were prima facie satisfied that HR and CE had no authority to spend the temple funds for purposes other than maintaining the temples in the absence of a board of trustees to administer those temples and their properties. It said when a devotee puts his money into an offertory (donation box or Hundial), he/she expects it will be used only for temple purposes, and such money cannot be diverted. The matter was adjourned to June 13.