Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Wednesday demanded immediate halt to the eviction drive of tenants on temple lands and fixing of more reasonable terms of payment of arrears.

Those living on temple lands and unable to pay the huge arrears the HR and CE Department had asked them to pay, were being suddenly evicted, CPI (M) MLA K. Mahendran alleged in the Assembly.

In greater Chennai, this move affected more than three lakh persons, who were living on the lands for more than three or four generations. They could not approach courts as they had to pay up the arrears before that.

These arrears ran into lakhs of rupees for each family and they were not in a position to pay. The arrears were calculated from July 7, 1998. He wanted the department to fix a fair rent.

There were also many cases of people forging documents and selling off temple lands as their own. Citing one such case in Tirupur, he said hundreds of plot buyers were affected by one such fraud. How could the buyers be held responsible for no fault of theirs, he asked.

Intervening, HR & CE Minister K.R. Periyakaruppan said that the onus of verification of property was on the person planning to purchase it. Otherwise it was similar to holding stolen goods. Earlier, the rule was that once a tenant passed away, his legal heirs would not be able to enjoy the benefits of the property. Now this had been relaxed.

P. Kannan (PMK) wanted the government to affix expiry date on the panchamritham being distributed in Palani. Mr. Periyakaruppan said that panchamritham was being prepared in a hygienic manner. Earlier, the preparation had been leased out to contractors. Now, the government had taken it over.

Welfare board for priests

S.Ve. Shekher (Independent) wanted one per cent of the temple hundial collections to be used for the protection of that particular temple. There were four lakh priests in temples in the State and they did not receive any State benefits. A separate welfare board should be established for them and salary, on a par with that of government employees, provided.

Mr. Shekher said the practice of giving temple land for free for any purpose should be stopped. Fair rent should be fixed for those occupying the lands.