Staff Reporter

MADURAI: The pre-existing right of a temple over its ‘theppam’ (water body) and the appurtenant area does not get obliterated owing to the Tamil Nadu Estates (Abolition and Conversion of Ryotwari) Act, 1948, the Madras High Court has ruled.

Allowing a second appeal filed before the Madurai Bench by the Chokkanathaswamy Temple at Aruppukottai, Justice G. Rajasuria reversed the judgements of Virudhunagar Sub-Judge and Aruppukottai District Munsif who held that the water body belongs to the Government and not the temple.

“Once the plaintiff (temple) is found to have been in possession as owner and also exercising the right of ownership over the suit property continuously ever since before and after the commencement of the special enactment, the question of that property getting vested with the government does not arise at all,” he observed.

The temple originally filed a suit in 1986 claiming that the Chokkalingapuram Devangar Varthaga Sangam, a traders’ association, had encroached upon the temple land adjacent to the water body and constructed a building. But the then Collector filed a written statement contending that neither the water body nor the adjacent area belongs to the temple as per Town Survey records.

In 1995, the Munsif dismissed the suit with a finding that the Government alone was empowered to evict the traders’ association. He held that a ‘patta’ (land ownership document) held by the temple cannot be a conclusive proof to confer title of the property, more so when Section 14 (A) of the Tamil Nadu Estates Act provides for cancellation of ‘pattas’ relating to water bodies.

However, Mr. Justice Rajasuria said that the Collector should not have filed the statement quite antithetical to the Government’s stand on the issue. The Judge recalled that two Government Orders issued in 1971 and 1980 stated that Section 14 A would not apply to the water bodies attached to religious institutions. Further, a Full Bench of the Court in 1998 had held that anybody could establish their right over a property de hors the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Estates Abolition Act.