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How can HR&CE dept use ₹45 crore from temple funds to build old age homes? asks HC

By Legal Correspondent

The Madras High Court on Thursday wondered how can the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department take an unilateral decision to use ₹45 crore from the funds of three different temples in the State to construct old age homes at Palani in Dindigul district, Tirunelveli and Chennai.

A Division Bench of Justices G.R. Swaminathan and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said, they were prima facie satisfied that the department had no authority to use the temple funds, for purposes other than maintenance of the temples, in the absence of a board of trustees to manage those temples and their properties.

Hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by temple activist T.R. Ramesh, the judges were initially inclined to stay the operation of a Government Order issued on January 12 for using the funds of the Dhandayudhapaniswamy Temple in Palani, the Nellaiappar temple in Tirunelveli and the Devi Baaliamman temple in Chennai.

However, when Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram sought six weeks time to file a counter affidavit and gave his word that nothing would happen by then, the judges adjourned the case after recording his submission that no money would be appropriated from the temple funds until the next hearing of the case.

Earlier, advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan, representing the PIL petitioner, pointed out that the HR&CE Minister P.K. Sekar Babu had made an announcement on the floor of the Legislative Assembly on September 4 that old age residences with all facilities would be started in Chennai, Palani and Tirunelveli at a cost of ₹5 crore.

Pursuant to such announcement, the G.O. was issued on January 12 deciding to use ₹15.20 crore from Dhandayuthapaniswamy temple, ₹13.50 crore from the Nellaiappar Temple and ₹16.30 crore from Devi Baaliamman temple for construction of the old age homes. The counsel questioned the authority of the department to take such a decision.

He said any decision on use of temple funds could be taken only by the board of trustees and not by the HR&CE department. Concurring with him, Justice Swaminathan said, when a devotee puts his money into the Hundial (donation box), he/she expects that it would be used only for temple purposes. Such money could not be diverted.

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