Holds HR and CE department had right to seek return of keys

: The Madras High Court Bench here on Tuesday dismissed a writ appeal filed by seven ‘Sthalathars' of the Subramania Swamy Temple at Tiruchendur in Tuticorin district claiming customary right to possess the keys of the temple's jewellery chest.

A Division Bench of Justices N. Paul Vasanthakumar and R. Subbiah held that a single judge of the High Court, Justice K.K. Sasidharan, had rightly dismissed the appellants' writ petition on January 31 and ruled that they cannot claim absolute right to possess the keys.

The Division Bench pointed out that the Joint Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, was well within his powers while directing the ‘Sthalathars' to hand over the keys to him under Section 42 of the HR and CE Act, 1959.

It also recorded the Joint Commissioner's submission that the ‘Sthalathars' were accused of misappropriation and mishandling of the temple jewels in 1966 and hence, a civil suit was filed against them by the temple authorities before the Tuticorin Sub-Court in 1969.

The suit was decreed in favour of the temple in 1977 and an appeal filed by the Sthalathars was also dismissed by the High Court in 1986. However, the execution proceedings, initiated thereafter, were pending before the Tiruchendur District Munsif Court for more than two decades.

In the meantime, the temple's Board of Trustees felt that the activities of the ‘Sthalathars' were not conducive for proper administration of the religious institution and passed a resolution on November 28, 2009 for recovering the keys of the jewellery chest.

The resolution was accepted by the HR and CE department which directed the ‘Sthalathars' to hand over the keys by January 11.

It was also decided to break open the chest if those people, claiming customary right, refused to hand over the keys.

In their affidavit, the seven ‘Sthalathars' C.M. Eswara Iyer, R. Subramania Iyer, S. Swaminatha Iyer, P.A. Sankaran Iyer, S. Gnamani Iyer, A. Cellapa Iyer and M. Kannan Iyer said that they were members of Thiriswanthira Sthalathars also called as Mukkani Brahmins.

According to a legend, the Lord Subramania Swamy had set up 2,000 families belonging to this caste in Tiruchendur to attend to various services performed in the temple.

They were performing services such as Kaiyatchi (possessing the jewels), Adyanam, Veda Paranyam, Panchagam and Asirvadam. Their ancestors had been in possession of the keys of the jewel chest since time immemorial, the petitioners' claimed and said that their right had even been recognised by a scheme decree passed by the Tirunelveli District Judge on January 30, 1930.