“The state Government or the Commissioner of the HR&CE department,shall not alienate or give away the lands contrary to the wish of the donor”; Madras HC


A division bench comprising Justices R Mahadevan and PD Audikesavalu in its 224-page judgment observed the need of emphasization
to preserve cultural heritage, the Madras High Court has issued a set of 75 directions to the State of Tamil Nadu to ensure that antique temples and ancient monuments in the state are properly maintained.
“It is startling to find that the HR&CE department with all its income from major temples has not been able to maintain historical temples and safeguard the Idols, which in market, have antique value based on their age. Some temples in the state have also been recognised by the UNESCO as heritage sites. Many temples constructed at least 2000 years ago or much before, recognised by UNESCO, are in ruins. Neither the Archaeology Department nor the HR&CE Department has shown interest to identify and protect them. This has also come to the advantage of the miscreants, who have laid their hands on the Idols.”; Madras HC observed while criticizing the departments of HR&CE and the Archeology for not doing enough for the upkeep of ancient temples and idols.
The Court highlighted that temple lands must always remain with temples and that the State Government or the HR&CE Department should not transfer or give such properties away against the donors’ wishes. “The State Government or the Commissioner of the HR&CE department, 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 over which the interest of the community people of the religious denomination generally rests.”the court noted.
The court urged to HR&CE to immediately remove the encroachment and illegal constructions in the protected area, archaeological sites, temple lands.
In the course of judgment court also observed “Appropriate action must be taken against the errant Government officials of the central as well as state department and officers under the HR&CE department for not removing the encroachments in the protected and regulated area, within a period of eight (8) weeks on expiry of the time given.”
The Court ordered, funds of the temples shall first be utilized for the maintenance of temples, conducting temple festivals, payment to its staff including the archakas, oduvars, musicians, folklore and drama artiste. In case of surplus funds, the same shall be utilized for attending the repair and maintenance of other temples in the state as specified under the HR&CE Act and the Rules framed there under and for propaganda of the tenets of all or any of the religious institutions under the HR&CE Act. The funds of individual temples should first be utilised for the maintenance of those temples.
While urging the need to establish tribunal for the same court stated “A Special Tribunal shall be formed to exclusively deal with the matters relating to the religious institutions come under the provisions of the HR&CE Act, such as, disputes on religious affairs, culture, tradition, heritage, inams and recovery of pending rent, 217 validity of lease, illegal encroachment and other temple and mutts land issues.” with this court also emphasized on the formation of Heritage Commission referring which it goes as ”The Government shall finalise the conservation manual containing the regulations for the functions of the Heritage Commission as well the Mamallapuram World Heritage Area Management Authority and the procedures for conservation, preservation and renovation of heritage and non-heritage temples, monuments and historical sites with the assistance of the officials attached to the State and Central ASI Departments and HR & CE Department, within a period of twelve (12) weeks.” Further court states the need of a “High level committee has to be formed to review the HR&CE Act once in three years to make necessary amendments, however, subject to judicial review.”
“The Central Government shall implement the Ancient Monuments Act in letter and spirit, by declaring all religious structures more than 100 years old including temples, temples’ tanks, mutts, temple chariots, jewels, art, artefacts, and sacred groves etc., including private denomination temples, as ‘national monuments’ with immediate effect.” Madras HC seek to central government to declare all structures aged more than 100 years as national monuments.
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Manish Tiwari


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