Temple lands can be alienated only if it is in the interest of the temple: HC

Mohamed Imranullah S.

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Thursday, 8th June 2023
Page No. 8
Chennai Print Edition

The Madras High Court has clarified that temple lands can be alienated only after establishing that such alienation is purely in the interest of the temple concerned and that there is no option but to sell, mortgage, lease or exchange those lands to ensure uninterrupted performance of rituals.

Justices R. Mahadevan and P.D. Audikesavalu issued the clarification at the instance of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, which had urged the court to clarify eight out of 75 directions it had issued in a suo motu case on June 7, 2021 for safeguarding historical monuments including temples and their properties.

The 33rd direction, issued in 2021, read: “The State government or HR&CE Commissioner, who are the trustee/administrator of the temple lands, shall not alienate or give away the lands contrary to the wish of the donor. The lands shall always remain with the temples. The public purpose theory shall not be invoked in cases of temple lands.”

Special Government Pleader N.R.R. Arun Natarajan urged the court to clarify this direction and permit alienation of temple lands strictly in accordance with the conditions laid down under Section 34 of the HR&CE Act, so that temples would be able to yield income through their lands rather than leaving them barren.

Accepting his plea, the Division Bench ordered that alienation should be resorted to only if there was a necessity for the temple and not for the necessity of third parties. Requirements such as considering public objections to the proposal and obtaining government approval as well as HR&CE Commissioner’s sanction should also be complied with, it said.

Political connections

The Bench also clarified another direction and stated that mere political connections cannot be a ground for non-suitability of a person for the post of temple trustee, if he/she was otherwise very religious and an ardent devotee who possesses all the qualifications required for such appointment under the HR&CE Act.

“It is pertinent to point out that a non-hereditary trustee can occupy a post only for a specific period. However, the existence of political domination would be evident from repeated and continuous appointment of same persons as trustees for several years... It would cast a spell of cloud over such appointment and hence, should be avoided,” the Bench wrote.

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