Tamil Nadu

Madras HC stays government’s plan to buy encroached temple lands

The judges were of the view that regularising encroachments would make otiose Section 78 of the Act which casts a duty upon HR&CE officials to keep temple lands free from encroachments and carry out eviction. File

The judges were of the view that regularising encroachments would make otiose Section 78 of the Act which casts a duty upon HR&CE officials to keep temple lands free from encroachments and carry out eviction. File   | Photo Credit: V. Ganesan

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Court says sanctifying encroachments will strip temples of their properties

The Madras High Court on Friday stayed the operation of a Government Order (GO) issued by the Revenue Department on August 30 for purchasing select temple lands that were no longer required by the individual religious institutions concerned and hand them over to poor landless encroachers who were in occupation of those properties for long.

Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee said although the GO had been issued “with an avowed objective of providing housing facilities to homeless encroachers of lands belonging to the government, local bodies and temples… an attempt to regularise encroachers and sanctify encroachments was more likely to denude temples of their properties.”

Authoring the interim order, Justice Seshasayee said: “Any act that involves loss of properties of a temple for purposes other than those intended for the benefit or necessity of the temple, may well contravene the spirit behind Section 34 of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1959 (which permits sale of temple properties if it turns out to be beneficial).”

The judges were of the view that regularising encroachments would make otiose Section 78 of the Act which casts a duty upon HR&CE officials to keep temple lands free from encroachments and carry out eviction. All these reasons apart, they said, temple lands could not be given away until biometric evaluation of encroachers was undertaken and completed.

Their order recorded the fact that though Government Pleader (GP) V. Jayaprakash Narayanan had sought a short adjournment for the appearance of Advocate General Vijay Narayan to explain the government’s stand, the judges had decided to pass orders on the stay petitions filed by a couple of public interest litigation petitioners in view of the urgency involved in the issue.

The petitioners had challenged the government’s decision on the ground that HR&CE officials could not sell away temple lands unless such a sale was beneficial to the temples concerned. It was contended that those officials had failed in their statutory duty to protect the temple lands by allowing encroachers to occupy large tracts of temple lands for years together.

It was argued that “the present endeavour undertaken through the GO adds insult to injury when the government wants to regularise the encroachments and thereby condone the abject neglect of temple lands by the authorities concerned.” On the other hand, the GP submitted that the government had only planned to purchase and not take away the lands forcibly.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 6:27:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/madras-hc-stays-governments-plan-to-buy-encroached-temple-lands/article30055130.ece

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