Justice S.M. Subramaniam of the Madras High Court on Monday took serious note of misappropriation of public money in the issuance of special darshan tickets at the Vadapalani Dhandayudhapani temple in Chennai.
The judge told the temple’s Executive Officer (EO), who was present in the court along with State Government Pleader (SGP) P. Muthukumar, that he visited the temple with his wife and daughter on Saturday.
“I did not want to have a VIP darshan by disclosing my identity. Therefore, I went there as a common man and purchased three special darshan tickets costing ₹50 each,” the judge said.
To his shock, he found that the staff manning the counter issued only two ₹50 tickets and one ₹5 ticket despite taking ₹150 from him.
On being questioned, she quietly replaced the ₹5 ticket with a ₹50 ticket. According to the judge, his family members saw the temple staff issue such low value tickets along with high value tickets to other devotees too.
Thereafter, the judge and his family members went to the EO’s room to lodge a complaint, but the official was not present. When they insisted on sharing her phone number, the staff “behaved rudely” with the judge and refused to share the number stating that no such irregularity had taken place in the temple. “They had acted in a manner unbecoming of public servants and dealt with us in a rough, rude and arrogant manner. Having no other option, I called the High Court Registrar to provide us the assistance of the local police. On the police’s arrival, I disclosed my identity by informing my name and designation,” the judge said. Even in the presence of the police, the temple superintendent told the judge he would not share the EO’s phone number, and the latter had asked him to give the complaint and leave the place.
Thereafter, the judge left after asking the Registrar to make sure that the EO was present in court on Monday.
After she appeared, the judge asked the EO as to why there were no notice boards with contact numbers of authorities to whom the devotees could complain to when they encounter such misappropriation.
“My wife asked the temple staff, why they wouldn’t share the phone number of the EO when even the Chief Minister does not hesitate to share his number with the people, and the staff said, the Chief Minister may share but he won’t,” the judge lamented.
According to Justice Subramaniam, the temple staff would have pushed him out of the temple too for questioning the illegality, like they do with others, if the local police had not arrived and identified him. “If such is the situation of a temple which owns properties worth hundreds of crores of rupees and with an annual income of ₹14 crore, I shudder to think what would be happening in other temples,“ he said. The judge said it was considering the importance of such a huge temple that the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) Department had appointed an officer in the rank of Deputy Commissioner as the EO.
He said the EO was also equally responsible for the sad state of affairs as she had failed to put in place an effective mechanism to prevent such illegalities. Therefore, she should also be subject to disciplinary proceedings, he insisted.
The judge handed over to the SGP, a written complaint addressed to the HR and CE Department Commissioner and said he would also not hesitate to identify the temple staff who behaved rudely, if required.
Justice Subramaniam said he was refraining from initiating suo motu proceedings with the hope that the HR and CE Commissioner himself would look into the issue and take stern action. The SGP assured the judge that necessary action would be initiated and reported to the court by the second week of January. “It is only when Constitutional functionaries visit public places without VIP treatment, we get to see the amount of difficulties faced by the common man and the illegalities by the officials,” the judge said, and insisted on remedial action.
He also said toilet facilities should be provided outside the temple precincts since many elderly people, especially those suffering from diabetes and other ailments, visit the temples regularly.