Tamil Nadu has recently claimed that it has retrieved temple properties from encroachers and defaulters worth 2,600 crores, which only remains on paper.
Last September, Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE) Minister Sekar Babu announced in the state Assembly that they have already exceeded the Rs 1,000 crore target and would retrieve temple lands worth another few hundred crores before the end of the year. In January this year, he said that temple land worth Rs1,640 crore had been recovered since the DMK returned to power.
On 4th May, Tamil Nadu Government said that it had retrieved 2567 crore rupees worth of temple lands from encroachers since the DMK came to power. This was mentioned in the policy note of the HR and CE Department, tabled in the state Assembly by the minister Sekhar Babu. The policy note says the retrieved lands include 1,184 acres of farmlands and 467 grounds of vacant housing plots, among others.
Recently HR and CE came out with a book entitled ‘Temple Properties Recovered by the Endowment Board, 2021-2022’. It talks about temple properties recovered after DMK took over. In his forward, CM MK Stalin said, ‘It is a document written making temple properties their own’.
TN BJP K Annamalai has been demanding the HR and CE to come out with details like who is the encroacher, the extent of land leased or given, how much is taken back, are there are dues or arrears, survey number etc.
Temple worshippers society founder TR Ramesh in an interview with a Tamil daily, said that while it is appreciable that measures are taken to document temple properties, the so-called documents of recovery of properties raise suspicion for those who have been observing HRCE’s atrocities for a decade. The temple activist said over one lakh crore worth of agricultural lands, buildings belonging to the temple, mutt, and trusts have been under encroachment for several years. Be it AIADMK or DMK, during their regime abetted and were directly involved in alienating the same. This is the hard truth.
He says, “Rs. Two thousand crores property in 114 acres with Salem city and belonging to Sri Sukavaneswarar temple has been infringed by the planned failure of TNHRCE dept. For 40 years. More than 1000 crore in income was lost. TN officials responsible for that should be jailed”. He further explains that the temple documents record them as agricultural land on lease for 31 years on a measly sum of Rs.11,000 per year. But in fact, they should be shown as 50 lakh sq. ft of real estate as they are encroached by houses, schools, shops, colleges, Corporation cemetery, and even a church.”
DMK has been accused of anti-Hindu, and pro-minority by its opponents like BJP and devotees. During its one-year rule, more than 200 temples have been razed to grounds in the name of the encroachment removal drive, leaving churches and mosques on watercourses or water bodies untouched. No action has been taken on you tubers who make obscene and derogatory remarks against Hindu gods. Recently in Madurai, rabid fringe outfits took out a Red Shirt rally. It is an instance of spewing venom against Hindus and Hindu Gods. They abused Goddess Amman, Lord Krishna, and Lord Ayyappa and insulted Hindu faith followers. The government was silent in taking action against them but arrested you-tuber Karthick Gopinath, who was known for his anti-DMK views accusing him of collecting money to build a temple vandalized four times by unknown persons. No one has been arrested to date in this connection.
Be that as it may, Temple activists have refuted these claims and accused the DMK government of glossing over the facts in a perceived attempt to be accepted as a pro-Hindu party.
Ramesh says, “HR and CE department has hidden information from the CM. In 1986. it had mentioned in its policy draft that temple lands amount to 5.25 lakh acres. But now, the department says that only 4.78 lakh acres are with the temples, most of which are under encroachment. Another temple activist Salem Radhakrishnan had filed a PIL seeking information about the 47,000 acres of missing land; the court directed HRCE to file a rejoinder. HRCE reportedly hasn’t submitted any reply till now. But it dares to act like it has done a great job recovering temple lands and publishes a book with cooked up numbers.
HRCE admits that it has proper documents only for 3.43 lakh acres of land in the book. He questions how the government, controlling temples for nearly 70 years, could lose the documents of 1.35 lakh acres of temple lands. Only in 2012, HRCE claimed in an affidavit filed in court that the temples, mutts and other endowments under its control own 4.78 lakh acres of agricultural land, 18.47 lakh sq. ft of buildings and 29.15 crore sq. ft of properties. But now it says it doesn’t have proper documents for 1.35 lakh acres of land. This negligence has shocked the temple activists as these temples, and their properties have been managed by the HRCE for decades.
Ramesh questions, “Doesn’t HRCE know that it’s easy to register the lands in the encroacher’s name if there are no proper records for them? If rent, lease is not paid for more than 6 months, or land is squatted upon without any proper lease document, or it is encroached by illegal means, it should be considered as an encroachment. The truth is that in this manner, 1.5 lakh acres of land and five crore sq.ft properties are under encroachment.” It is interesting that courts and government offices have been built on temple lands. Several acres of temple lands are leased to educational institutions on a princely (?) rent?. Are they not coming under the encroachment act? Minister Sekar Babu admitted in public that Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy temple has only 24 acres of land now despite owning 330 acres in the 1800s. Where are they? Are there any efforts to trace, identify and redeem? Asked a devotee Murali.
It is only because of filing PILs and cases by activists like Ramesh and Radhakrishnan seeking directions to identify and catalogue encroachments on temple properties and retrieve them, that HR and CE have been recovering them. HR and CE are not doing it of their volition. In some cases, actions initiated by earlier AIADMK or due to court interventions, properties were recovered. DMK only sticker pasting.
In October last year, Madras High Court has asked the government to initiate proceedings to evict the Queensland amusement park from 21 acres of land in Poonamallee belonging to Kasi Viswanathaswami temple and Venugopalaswami temple. The disputed land was part of a much larger extent of 254 acres endowed to the temple in 1883. Justice M. Sundar observed that a private institution could not be permitted to squat on public property without paying a penny either to the State government or the temple 1997. But it is yet to be retrieved. It was not mentioned in the book. The land was taken on lease by Oorvasi Selvaraj, Amirtharaj Selvaraj’s father, in 1991 when he was the Vice President of South Chennai District of the Indian National Congress, on the pretext of carrying out farming activities. However, his family violated the agreement by constructing the Queensland Amusement Park on that very land. Just because they are Christians, the government is afraid of taking any action despite court action.
The government’s latest book is nothing but to hoodwink the public and devotees and prove that they are pro-Hindus.