The Madras High Court on Wednesday said authorities concerned should not hesitate to arrest encroachers of temple lands under the stringent Goondas Act, saying such fraudulent act was a crime against the society.
Passing final orders on a writ petition pertaining to Sri Audikesava Perumal Peyazhwar Devasthanam temple in Mylapore, the court also directed the State government to effect publication of advertisements in respect of all the temples across the state, calling upon the encroachers/illegal occupants to surrender the possession of all such properties voluntarily before the competent authorities within a stipulated period, failing which, stern action should be taken against them under the relevant provisions of the Act and Penal laws, howsoever high they are.
“Fraudulent and illegal encroachments of temple properties is a crime against the society at large. Misappropriation of the funds of the temple is undoubtedly an offence and all such offences are to be registered and the offenders are liable to be prosecuted by the State, as the State is the controller of these temples and the offences are also committed against the State. Temple properties are allowed to be looted by few greedy men and by few professional criminals and land grabbers. Active or passive contribution and collusion by the officials of the HR&CE department cannot be overruled. These lapses, negligence, dereliction of duty on the part of such public officials are also to be viewed seriously and all appropriate actions in this regard are highly warranted,” Justice S M Subramaniam said and issued a set of 10 directions.
The government should initiate appropriate action through the police department in such cases, where actions under the provisions of the Goondas Act are warranted, the judge added.
The court was hearing a writ petition from N C Sridhar, one of the trustees of the temple, challenging an August 6 order of the Secretary, Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowment department suspending all the five trustees of the temple from functioning.
The judge directed the government to appoint an enquiry officer, not below the rank of the Joint Commissioner of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments(HR&CE) department immediately, to conduct an enquiry. It should take possession of all relevant records from the temple for the purpose of conducting a free and fair enquiry.
The judge also directed the government to constitute a special cell consisting of a team of officials with integrity and devotion to duty for monitoring the actions initiated for the retrieval of temple properties, funds, jewellery etc. The cell constituted in the Headquarters shall have separate telephone/mobile numbers and they must be displayed in all the shrines and in the offices of the HR&CE department to facilitate the general public/devotees to register their complaints.
The DGP should provide all necessary protection to the government officials and those engaged by the HR&CE department to perform the work, as and when required, the judge added.
Earlier, counsel for petitioner contended that the impugned suspension order is not in consonance with the provisions of the HR&CE Act and Rules and uncalled for. The petitioner alone is continuing as the head of the trustees and the two other trustees had died. The remaining two trustees had resigned. Four others were co-opted as new trustees, he said.