NATIONAL

SC grants time to Tourism Ministry on temple scheme

NEW DELHI Oct.13. The Supreme Court today granted six weeks time to the Union Tourism Ministry to frame a scheme for declaring the Arunachaleswarar temple in Tiruvannamalai as "an ancient monument of national importance" similar to the one now in place for the Vaishnodevi temple. In the meantime it directed the District Collector to strictly enforce the July 2002 "status quo" order that no encroachments shall be permitted around the `Girivalam' path of the temple.

A Bench comprising Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice B.N. Agrawal granted time to the Centre following a submission made by the Additional Solicitor-General, Altaf Ahmed, that the Government was preparing a scheme for the Tiruvannamalai temple on the lines of a scheme prepared for the Vaishnodevi shrine in Jammu and it required some more time to finalise it.

Appearing for the Arunachala Giri Pradakshna Samithi, senior counsel, Sriram Panchu, brought to the notice of the court that despite the July 2002 order of the apex court that status quo should be maintained in respect of fresh constructions and encroachments, new constructions were noticed in 14 locations between the Adhi Parashakthi temple and the Pachaiamman temple. He wanted that the District Collector and the District Superintendent of Police be made nodal enforcement authorities for strict compliance of the status quo order.

The Bench accepted the submission and directed the Collector to strictly enforce the July 22 order and file a compliance report. On behalf of the Tiruvannamalai Municipality, its counsel, T. Harish Kumar, said the municipality would file a status report on the encroachments as well as on the constructions alleged in the application filed by the Samithi.

In the application, the Samithi said no attempts had been made by the Collector to stop the construction activity on the `Girivalam' path though it was brought to his notice through two letters dated September 12, 2002 and October 1, 2002. The Samithi said all these new constructions were coming up very close to the hill road and were visible from the road itself. It was apprehended that owing to the apathy displayed by the panchayat unions and municipality, more constructions might be coming up between the hill road and the mountain, which were not visible from the road.

Further, as of now, predominantly the lands between the hill road and the mountain stretch between the Adhi Parashakthi temple and the Pachaiamman temple were either forest or agricultural lands and if houses were permitted to be constructed in this area, the view of the holy mountain from the hill road would be obstructed, the application said.

The apex court had in August 2001, while admitting appeals filed by the Tamil Nadu Government and the Tiruvannamalai Municipality, stayed the Madras High Court judgment framing a scheme for providing facilities to devotees who visited the Tiruvannamalai temple to perform `Girivalam'.

Subsequently, after the Archaeological Survey of India issued a notification in September last for takeover of the temple, it was challenged in the Madras High Court, which also stayed further proceedings. Now the Centre wanted hearing in all these petitions to be stayed since the apex court was seized of the matter and the Bench said this aspect would be considered after the Centre filed its scheme for the temple.

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