Tamil Nadu

Presence of Executive Officers in many temples illegal, litigant claims before HC

The Madras High Court on Monday sought the response of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to a public interest litigation petition which claimed that the presence of Executive Officers in as many as 60 popular temples in the State is illegal since they had not been appointed in accordance with law.

Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha ordered notice to the State Government after hearing senior counsel G. Rajagopalan representing the PIL petitioner, T.R. Ramesh, of Indic Collective Trust.

The litigant claimed that information obtained by him under the Right to Information Act of 2005 proved that the presence of Executive Officers even in Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, Kapaleeswarar Temple at Mylapore in Chennai and Subramaniaswamy temples in Tiruttani and Tiruchendur was clearly illegal.

He recalled that the practice of State control over religious institutions began during the colonial rule in the Bengal and Madras Presidency in 1817. Subsequently, the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act of 1926 contemplated Board of Commissioners, framing of schemes to administer temples and regulation of temples, mutts and religious endowments.

Post Independence, the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1951 was enacted. However, the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court declared most of the provisions of the 1951 Act to be unconstitutional. Hence, the present Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1959 was brought into force.

The 1959 Act came into force from January 1, 1960 and it provided for administration of Hindu religious institutions by the HR&CE department. Sections 43A, 45, 74 and 75-C(4)(b) of the Act provide for appointment of Executive Officers who were basically government servants subject to disciplinary action by the HR&CE Commissioner.

Mr. Ramesh pointed out that the Supreme Court had, in the Dr. Subramanian Swamy versus State of Tamil Nadu (2014), held that every order of appointment of an Executive Officer to a temple must disclose reasons for such appointment and that those appointments should be made only for a specific period and not for eternity.

It was only after that judgment the State government notified the Conditions for Appointment of Executive Officers Rules of 2015 and gave retrospective effect to them, the petitioner said and contended that they could not have been given retrospective effect at all in the absence of an enabling provision in the HR&CE Act.

Pointing out that the temples in the State could be broadly classified as ‘scheme temples’ (those for which schemes had been framed for administration) and ‘notified temples’ (those which had been notified under the Act), the petitioner alleged that many of them were being administered by Executive Officers illegally.

Urging the court to order handing over of the administration of those temples from the Executive Officers to the trustees, the litigant accused the Executive Officers of perpetuating various illegalities in administration. He said serious misdeeds such as theft of idols and mismanagement of temple properties had been reported under them.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 4:53:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/presence-of-executive-officers-in-many-temples-illegal-litigant-claims-before-hc/article32719832.ece

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