A significant development unfolded as the Madras High Court’s Division Bench issued an order for the eviction of the Amali Girls Higher Secondary School, situated in Vikramasingapuram, Ambasamudram taluk, Tirunelveli district. The school has been found to infringe upon 11 acres of Hindu temple land since 1990, a decision hailed by Hindu devotees and litigants.
The court’s well-reasoned judgment is a crucial step in restoring the rightful ownership of the land to the trust ‘Pillayan Arthjama Kattalai,’ managed by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR and CE) department. The legal battle reached its pinnacle on December 5 when the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court dismissed three writ petitions filed by the Mother Superior of Amali Girls’ Higher Secondary School and Amali Convent.
The court, in its order, upheld the eviction directive, emphasising that the Amali Convent had illegally occupied the property belonging to ‘Pillayan Arthasaam Kattalai,’ which falls under the jurisdiction of Arulmigu Papanasaswamy Temple in Tirunelveli district. The court sternly criticised the petitioners for using children as a “smoke screen” to justify the illegal encroachment on temple land.
The legal saga began in 2011 when devotee M Mariappan raised concerns about the encroachment, prompting the HR and CE to take action. The court records indicate a dispute over four pieces of land totaling 11 acres, initially leased to Amali Convent. The District Munsif Court at Ambasamudram dismissed the petition in 1985, leading to an appeal in the Sub Court at Tenkari.
The trust, ‘Pillayan Arthjama Kattalai,’ oversees charitable activities and poojas at the Papanasam Sivan temple on the Thamirabarani River’s banks in Tirunelveli. The income generated from leasing the land to the school supports these activities, but concerns arose due to the school’s nominal annual rent, significantly below market value.
A compromise settlement was reached during the initial appeal, with Amali Convent returning a portion of the land but retaining 11 acres. However, subsequent violations of settlement conditions, including unauthorized construction, led to an eviction notice in 2012. The Joint Commissioner HR and CE, M Anbumani, issued an eviction order in 2013, citing the school’s non-agricultural use of the land and building structures.
Amali Convent challenged the eviction notice in 2013, but the court granted a status quo for three weeks, citing potential disruptions to students. The final judgment, delivered after the status quo period ended in September 2013, affirmed the HR and CE’s authority to reclaim the encroached land.
The court, in its recent order, rebuffed arguments that evicting the land would hinder girls’ education, emphasising the petitioner’s ample time to relocate the school. The court condemned the manipulation of the “children’s welfare” argument to evade legal accountability, underscoring the need to prioritise the restoration of temple land over such tactics.
In a related temple dispute, the Madras High Court issued an interim injunction in March this year, restraining the Kanyakumari District Rural Development Agency and Thuckalay block development officer from constructing a school building on land belonging to the Sunangaparai Sri Kandan Sastha temple, dating back over a thousand years in Kalkulam Taluk, Kanyakumari.