The Madras High Court on Monday restrained the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department from establishing any more arts and science colleges, other than the four which had already been planned to be instituted using temple funds, without obtaining the express leave of the court.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu also ordered that further functioning of even the four colleges at Kolathur in Chennai, Paramathi Velur in Namakkal district, Thoppampatti in Dindigul district and Vilathikulam in Thoothukudi district would be subject to the result of a case filed in court.
T.R. Ramesh of Indic Collective Trust and Hindu Worshippers Society had filed the case questioning the use of temple funds to establish educational institutions, especially when most temples in the State did not have trustees and were being administered by fit persons (interim administrators appointed by HR&CE Department).
Concurring with him, prima facie, the judges said it was an undisputed position that steps were not taken for the last 10 years to fill the vacancies of trustees in many temples. It was only recently that the current State Government initiated steps to first constitute district-level committees which, in turn, would help appoint trustees to temples.
Pointing out that the HR&CE Act provides only for voluntary transfer of surplus funds of revenue-rich temples to a “common good fund”, the judges said: “With respect, the 'voluntary' aspect of the transfer of funds is robbed if the transfer is at the behest of a fit person who is appointed by the HR&CE Commissioner or the government.
“A fit person temporarily discharges the duties of administration and the transfer of funds would be a much larger policy decision that a fit person ought not to take. The mere fact that a fit person may have continued for years and even a decade in the absence of government endeavor to install the rightful administration by the appointment of trustees, will not confer any greater right on a fit person than a mere caretaker.”
The court also noted that the four colleges, which are ready to open, offered only B.B.A., B.Com. and other similar courses without there being any regular course in religious instructions in Hindu religion. “It will be a condition precedent to the four colleges that a stream of religious instructions in Hindu religion be introduced. If such a course is not introduced within a month of the college starting, the further functioning of the college cannot continue,” it said.
It observed that however pious the intention might be to use perceived surplus temple funds for the purpose of education, it must be appreciated that these funds are out of offerings made by devotees for a particular cause and, ordinarily, the cause must not be forgotten and the same must be espoused with a part of the funds, even though the larger sphere of education might also be addressed.
After directing the HR&CE Department to file its counter to the PIL in three weeks and granting a week thereafter for the petitioner to file his rejoinder, the judges adjourned the case to December 20 for further hearing.