The court has time and again reiterated that the properties belonging to temples and mutts should be used only for religious activities. If it is encroached upon by any third party, it should be removed and retrieved, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has said.
A Division Bench of Justices R. Mahadevan and J. Sathya Narayana Prasad directed the Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to ensure that properties belonging to temples and mutts were maintained and utilised for the benefit of the religious institutions only.
The court was hearing the public interest litigation petition filed by A. Radhakrishnan who sought the direction to authorities to protect the properties belonging to Madurai Adheenam. He said Madurai Adheenam was having several endowed properties and they were mismanaged.
The court observed that the present petition highlighted the unauthorised alienation and encroachments on Adheenam’s properties. It depicted the callous attitude on the part of the authorities in conducting inspection and carrying out their responsibilities in supervising the administration of mutts under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959.
The court observed that the mutt’s properties should be utilised in a manner that was beneficial to the mutt. Section 34 of the HR & CE Act protected immovable properties of the mutt from being used in a manner prejudicial to its interests, by declaring any exchange, sale or mortgage and any lease exceeding term of five years to be a nullity, if not sanctioned by the Commissioner as necessary and beneficial to the religious institution. Even if such conveyance was sanctioned, sub-section (2) allowed the Commissioner to impose conditions for the utilisation of the amount in lieu of such transfer.
The Commissioner, HR & CE Department, was conferred with powers to supervise the administration of the mutt and ensure that the properties were not alienated or used for some other purposes.
If the Assistant Commissioner had knowledge of any encroachment, he/she was required to intimate the Joint Commissioner along with a report. Upon the perusal of the report, the Joint Commissioner would conduct an enquiry. If the allegation of encroachment was found to be true, the Joint Commissioner had to direct removal of the encroachments.
Despite the HR & CE department having such powers, there were multiple instances of encroachment on lands belonging to religious institutions. The court directed the authorities to take immediate action for removal of unauthorised occupation and encroachments/ possession, besides recovery of arrears of rent, if any.