A 1982 declaration entitling the trustee of a temple at Melakottai to sell the properties held valid, but subject to review

Officials of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) Department here are in a quandary. They are struggling to prevent the trustee of a temple near here from alienating its properties on the basis of a 27-year-old declaration that the temple is not a religious institution!

The Badrakaliamman temple at Melakottai in Thirumangalam Taluk near here owned 2.54.8 hectares of land. Recently, its trustee decided to sell the properties. Objecting to it, an Assistant Commissioner of the HR and CE Department passed an order directing the trustee not to alienate the properties without his permission.

Aggrieved over the order, the trustee moved the Madras High Court Bench here stating he was entitled to sell the properties as the temple would not fall under the definition of a ‘religious institution’ as per a declaration passed by a Deputy Commissioner of the HR and CE Department on June 19, 1982.

Filing a counter-affidavit in reply to the writ petition, the Assistant Commissioner said that the Commissioner had accepted his request made on June 20, 2008 to initiate suo motu proceedings under Section 69(2) of the HR&CE Act and review the declaration passed in 1982 by the then Deputy Commissioner.

The Additional Government Pleader stated that the trustee should not be allowed to sell the properties until the Commissioner reviews the declaration. He said that the Supreme Court had held that it was the duty of the courts to safeguard properties of religious and charitable institutions from wrong claims and misappropriation.

Not agreeing with him completely, Justice T. Sivagnanam said that the trustee could not be prevented from selling the properties because the 1982 declaration had attained finality and it had not been challenged by anybody. "The action of the department in having slept over the matter for over 20 years is also to be taken note of," he added.

The Judge permitted the trustee to sell the properties and directed the sub-registrar concerned to register the sale deed. However, the sale would be subject to the outcome of the suo motu review proceedings which should be completed within three months. Till then the seller as well as buyers should not create any encumbrance, he ordered.

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