In a bid to collect rent arrears running to over Rs. 450 crore from properties across the State, the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) department has begun a drive.

The department manages the affairs of over 38,400 temples in the State, including 489 big and 777 small temples in the city.

At a recent meeting, temple executive officers were asked to collect at least 50 per cent of the dues, said an HR & CE official.

In Chennai, arrears amounting to Rs. 50 crore are to be collected. “The target is to collect at least 50 per cent of the dues in a month. Some of these are arrears that have been pending for over 30 years. We have put up boards in temples declaring the dues owed to them,” said the official.

The boards display names and addresses of the top 10 defaulters and are updated as and when the defaulters pay up. The move helped the Chennai circle net Rs. 9.24 crore over the past year.

The department rents out residential and commercial buildings and plots, groves, and agricultural land donated by devotees.

“We are only custodians of the properties. In the past two years, we have collected over Rs. 250 crore as rent. Of this, around Rs. 145 crore was acquired from commercial sites and buildings. Rent amounting to Rs. 160 crore remains to be collected from commercial properties,” said the official.

The rent charged is very minimal, the official said.

Those occupying residential sites have to pay 0.1 per cent of the property value, and for commercial sites, it is 0.3 per cent.

In the case of agricultural lands, 75 per cent of the gross produce goes to the cultivator and 25 per cent to the department.

Revenue courts set up recently at Lalgudi, Mannargudi, Nagapattinam and Tirunelveli are handling long-pending cases of property disputes. The department has also been identifying its property with the help of district collectors, the official said.