High Court ruling on preventing alienation of temple properties

In a judgement that could prevent alienation of thousands of immovable properties endowed to religious institutions centuries ago, the Madras High Court Bench here on Monday held that an endowment could not be termed ‘private’ even if the income derived from it alone had been dedicated for religious purposes without vesting the properties on the idol concerned.

Justice M. Duraiswamy passed the ruling on a batch of civil revision petitions filed on behalf of the idols of Renganathaswamy at Srirangam and Kailasanathaswamy in Big Bazaar Street in Tiruchi.

The petitioners had challenged the permission granted by a district court in Tiruchi in April 2009 to the descendant of a trustee of a property endowed in 1887, to sell 46 cents of land through public auction.

The judge said one Thiruvengdam Chettiar wanted to create an endowment for religious purposes in the 19th century. However, he died before he could do so and hence his relative Chellathammal, guardian of Mr. Chettiar’s legal heir Angammal, allocated Rs.2,100 for fulfilling his wish and executed a Dharmaparipalanam agreement on May 7, 1887.

She also appointed four trustees and stated, in the agreement, that the money should be utilised to purchase an immovable property in the name of trustees and the income generated from the property should be spent for performing Thirukatchinambi Alvar Thirunatshatram at the Srirangam temple and Kailasanatharswami Puja Neivaithiyam at the Big Bazaar temple.

After a few years, the legal heirs of one of the trustees opted out of the responsibility of managing the trust and two other trustees died without any legal heirs. At present, the only active trustee was M. Pandian whose father Muthusamy Chettiar had leased out the land to one Thangaiyan in 1969 for an annual lease amount of Rs.750. The property was now occupied by Thangaiyan’s son T. Marimuthu.

Insufficient income

Claiming that the income was not sufficient to perform the religious obligations and that the present lessee was not agreeable to increasing the lease amount, Mr. Pandian had approached the district court seeking permission to sell the land to the lessee for a consideration of Rs. 23 lakh.

However, the court ordered public auction by setting an upset price of Rs.25 lakh and the lessee purchased it for Rs.25.2 lakh.

Holding that the court had exceeded its jurisdiction by granting permission for the sale of land, Mr. Justice Duraiswamy deprecated the trustee for attempting to “overreach the deities and the authorities under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act while managing the properties dedicated for the purposes of the temple.”

Further stating that “it is the duty of the courts to protect and safeguard the properties of religious and charitable endowment from wrongful claims and misappropriation,” he cancelled the lower court’s orders as well as the sale, and directed the trustee to refund the sale consideration received from the lessee since neither the idols nor the HR and CE officials were party to the lower court proceedings.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 1:29:45 PM |

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