Read Order: K.Senthilkumar vs. Principal Secretary to Govt.

Pankaj Bajpai

Chennai, September 21,2021: The Madras High Court has observed that it is the duty of the Courts to protect and safeguard the properties of religious and charitable institutions from wrongful claims or misappropriation.

While noticing that the petitioner had not only been enjoying the temple properties in an illegal manner, but derived profit from the temple properties and the profit gained had been running to several lakhs, the Single Bench of Justice S.M Subramaniam observed that the High Court is not expected to close its eyes in respect of such patent illegalities in dealing with the temple properties.

The observation came to be passed while upholding eviction proceedings against a person who claimed to be the leaseholder of certain property owned by the Arulmigu Agatheeswara Swamy Thirukkoil.

The High Court observed that since the petitioner had not produced any order granting sanction by the Commissioner, thus, any such exchange, sale or mortgage or any lease for a term not exceeding five years without the sanctioning of the Commissioner was null and void.

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. The “Deity” in the temple is a “minor” and the Court should be astute to protect the interests of an idol in any litigation. Therefore, 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 worshiping the ‘Deity’ can certainly be clothed with an ad hoc power of representation to protect its interest. 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”, observed Justice Subramaniam.

Stating that any fraudulent and illegal encroachments of temple properties is a crime against the society at large, the High Court opined that misappropriation of the funds of the temple is an offence against the Sate and the offenders are liable to be prosecuted by the State.

Counting on 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 of ownership or tenancy, or adverse possession, Justice Subramaniam said that such acts of ‘fences eating the crops’ should be dealt with sternly.

The High Court further found that the petitioner is not only an encroacher, but abused the property of the temple for his personal gains by subletting the temple properties to several third parties.

The period of illegality and the quantum of amounts collected from and out of the temple properties by the petitioner, are also to be looked into by the Competent Authorities of the HR&CE Department by conducting an elaborate enquiry. Any such abuse is established and if the Authorities Competent are also in collusion for such abuse, then all further actions are highly warranted”, observed the Court.

Therefore, opining that the petitioner has not paid the fair rent and further not submitted any application for transfer of tenant or the grant of lease in his favour, the High Court concluded that the petitioner was never recognized as a tenant under the temple and rather liable to be treated as an encroacher.

Accordingly, the High Court directed the respondents 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.

The Court also directed the respondents 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.

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