Are Courts bound to protect the interests of the “deity” in temple? Madras HC’s ruling on “Deity” in temple a “Minor”

Madras High Court: Asserting that “Deity” in the temple is a “minor” and the Court should be astute to protect the interests of an idol in any litigation, S.M. Subramaniam, J., held that,

When the trustee or the Executive Officer or the custodian of the idol, temple and its properties, leave the same in lurch, any person interested in respect of such temple or worshipping deity can certainly be clothed with an adhoc power of representation to the protect its interest.

Background

Petitioner submitted that land to an extent of 3227 sq. feet belonged to the 4th respondent temple and the superstructure originally belonged to the father of the petitioner.

Further, it was stated that by a registered sale deed, petitioner’s father had sold the superstructure along with the Lease Hold Rights to his brother. After the death of the father of the petitioner, his brother Mr D. Kumarasamy executed the settlement deed in favour of the petitioner.

Pursuant to the said settlement deed, the petitioner was a permissible tenant and was in continuous possession and enjoyment of the property till date by letting out to tenants. Further, the petitioner claimed that he paid the admitted rent regularly. He requested the 4th respondent for name transfer as he had done some minor repairs to the property.

Adding to the above, it stated that the 4th respondent had been increasing the rent and the same was being paid by the petitioner.

Petitioner submitted that the 4th respondent had terminated the lease deed and thereafter, the suit was filed for injunction not to put up any illegal construction in the temple properties.

In view of the above circumstances, the competent authorities initiated action under Section 78 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 and passed the eviction order. An eviction order had been communicated to the petitioner and thereafter an appeal was filed.

In an earlier order, this Court had directed the petitioner to deposit a sum of Rs 10,00,000 before the third respondent temple and the petitioner paid the said amount and thereafter, Court directed respondent 1 to dispose of the appeal.

What is the Grievance of the petitioner?

Petitioner stated that during the pendency of the appeal, respondent was initiating the steps to evict the petitioner as respondent 1 had not granted any interim stay of the eviction order.

Due to the above-stated facts, instant petitioner was moved.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Petitioner claimed to be the authorized leaseholder of the subject temple, though he could not produce any lease deed or documents to establish that his father was a leaseholder recognized by the Temple Authorities.

Bench noted that no one was holding a valid lease document properly executed by the Temple Authorities.

Court opined that the manner in which the temple properties were dealt with by the petitioner, sixth respondent and father of the petitioner were absolutely in violation of the provisions of the Act, and they were not only encroachers and illegal occupants, but utilized the property of the temple in an unlawful manner for their personal and unjust gains.

Bench was shocked to note the above and stated that though the Authorities initiated action, this Court had to record that such actions initiated were not only insufficient but raised a doubt about the active or passive collusion on the part of Competent Authorities of the temple.

Section 34 of the Act enumerates ‘alienation of immovable Trust property’. Sub section (1) of Section 34 stipulates that “Any exchange, sale or mortgage and any lease for a term exceeding five years of any immovable property, belonging to, or given or endowed for the purpose of, any religious institution shall be null and void unless it is sanctioned by the Commissioner as being necessary or beneficial to the institution”.

Court observed that, the temple property, which is meant for the benefit of the temple, can never be allowed to be encumbered in a different manner and in such circumstances, the Courts are bound to step in and deal with the issues properly

Significant, the Bench observed that where the persons in management of a temple failed to protect the interest of the temple diligently, the Court is empowered to take notice of such facts and deal with the issues in an appropriate manner.

If there are lapses, slackness or negligence on the part of the Executive Officer and the trustees of the temple, “it is the duty of the Court to ensure that the ‘Deity’ does not suffer thereby. The Courts should be astute to protect the interests of an idol in any litigation.”

Continuing to make some very interesting observations, Court added that the temple properties are allowed to be looted by few greedy men and by few professional criminals and land grabbers.

Lapses, negligence, dereliction of duty on the part of public officials are also to be viewed seriously and all appropriate actions in this regard are highly warranted.

High Court also noted that there are many instances where persons entrusted with the duty of managing and safeguarding the properties of temples deities and Devaswom Boards have usurped and misappropriated such properties by setting up false claims ownership or tenancy, or adverse possession.

The above is only possible with the passive or active collusion of the authorities concerned.

Such acts of ‘fences eating the crops’ should be dealt with sternly.

In the present matter, Court stated that the petitioner was not only an encroacher but abused the property of the temple for his personal gains. He has been enjoying the temple properties in an illegal manner, but derived profit from the temple properties and the profit gained was running to several lakhs.

In view of the above said, Bench expressed that,

High Court has its constitutional obligation in such circumstances to step-in and protect the interest of the minor idol and issue appropriate orders.

Directions of the Court:

  • Respondents 1 to 5 are directed to complete the eviction in all aspects and take over possession of the temple properties and deal with the same in accordance with the provisions of the Act and more specifically for the benefit of the temple administration;
  • Respondents 1 to 5 are directed to conduct an enquiry and assess the financial loss occurred to the subject temple and initiate all appropriate actions against all the persons concerned for the recovery of the financial loss caused to the temple;
  • Respondents 1 to 5 are directed to look into the active or passive collusion on the part of the Authorities in dealing with the temple properties in such a manner and initiate appropriate action against all those Authorities, who have contributed for the maladministration of the temple properties

[K. Senthilkumar v. Government of Tamil Nadu, WP No. 18190 of 2021, decided on 15-09-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For Petitioner:G. Devi, For Mr V. Raghupathi

For Respondents: Mr N.R.R. Arun Natarajan, Government Advocate,  [For R1 to R4]

Mr Willson Topaz, For M/s A.S. Kailasam and Associates

Government Advocate [For R5]

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