- The Madras High Court Bench of Hon’ble Justices R. Mahadevan and P. D. Audikesavalu passed a set of 75 directions in a suo moto Public Interest Litigation of 2015. The PIL was initiated by the then Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
- The Hon’ble Bench highlighted the need to preserve the cultural heritage and directed the State of Tamil Nadu to ensure the same.
- The Court criticized the Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments for not efficiently looking after the ancient temples and idols.
- The Court made it clear that the temple lands will always remain with the temple and that the public purpose theory should not be invoked over temple lands.
- The Court passed a 224-page judgment giving detailed directions which may lead to reforms in the administration of temples under the HR&CE Act.
- The Court also ordered the declaration of 100 years old or more religious structures as national monuments.
- The Court observed that the conservation of the valuable heritage is deteriorating due to the reckless administration and maintenance under the guise of renovation and not because of natural calamity or catastrophe. The Court observed that the custodians of the grand and ancient temples are least bothered about the issue.
- The Court also observed that the HR&CE Department has failed to maintain and safeguard the historical temples and idols despite all its income.
- Many temples that are more than 2,000 years old are in ruins and many of them are recognized by UNESCO. But neither the Archaeology Department nor the HR&CE Department has shown any interest to protect and maintain them
- All this has come to the advantage of the miscreants who have laid their hands on the idols. The ancient idols have antique value based on their age, the Court remarked.
Temple Lands And Temple Funds
- The Court remarked that the ‘Public Purpose Theory’ shall not be invoked over temple lands over which the religious interest of the people rests, and they must always remain with the temple. The State and HR&CE Department should refrain from giving away such lands against the wish of the donors.
- The Court ordered that any illegal constructions in the protected area, archaeological sites, temple lands, etc. should be removed immediately.
- The Court has directed the concerned authorities to take urgent steps for recovery of rent arrears, eviction of defaulters, and encroachers. The Court has ordered appropriate steps to be taken to evict them and recover the arrears as per the provisions of the HR&CE Act.
- The Hon’ble Court has also directed that appropriate action must be taken against the Government officials of the Central as well as the State under the HR&CE Department for not removing the encroachments in the concerned protected area within 8 weeks.
- The Court has ordered that the Temple funds must be prioritized for the temple’s maintenance.
- The HR&CE Department has been directed to undertake proper audits of the temple assets.
- It was directed that the HR&CE Department may allow stakeholders of different religious denominations to participate in the meetings that will be conducted when required.
Special Tribunals and Committees
- The Hon’ble Court has also directed the formation of a Special Tribunal under the Tamil Nadu HR&CE Act to specifically deal with matters and disputes relating to the temple, religious affairs, recovery of pending rent, the validity of lease, illegal encroachment on protected premises, and other connected issues.
- The Tribunal shall be led by a retired District Judge as Chairman and two other members (retired judicial officers) and will conduct cases like Civil Court of Summary within a maximum period of 6 months.
- It was further directed that a High-Level Committee be formed to review the HR&CE Act once in six years for making necessary amendments subject to judicial review. The Act must be amended in strict accordance with the penal provisions to cover all the illegal acts. It should be so amended that it is in accordance with the National Conservation Policy and International Charters.
- The Hon’ble Court also directed the formation of a 17 member heritage commission within 2 months. The function of this commission is to identify all the historical and antique structures, temples, monuments of importance within the State of Tamil Nadu and categorize them, render advice to the State, supervise the restoration and maintain the same.
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