The Madras High Court had asked the DMK government to file a report over the missing temple land.
Home to over 30,000 temples with different architectures and styles, controversy surrounded Tamil Nadu after a case came up in the Madras High Court pointing out that around 47,000 acres of temple land went missing from the records of the state. According to government records, there were 5.25 lakh acres of temple land between 1984-85 whereas the same has reduced to 4.78 lakh acres in 2019-20. The shocking revelation might have surprised many but it’s not new for the ‘Land of Temples’. The petition alleged that all this happened in the past three decades gradually allegedly in connivance with the temple trusts and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Board controlled by the government.
In 2018, a curious case came to light where a temple pond spread over 2.68 acres disappeared but was there on Google Earth. A retired police inspector drew the court’s attention towards the irregularity and a government lawyer claimed that the pond land was transferred to a private party by one of the former trustees. According to reports, 26 residential and five commercial buildings were already flourishing over the temple tank till it was noticed by activists. It was just one of the cases.
An inspection committee was even formed in 2018 to recover the lands from the hands of encroachers and land grabbers but barely any progress was made till last year. When the uproar over the issue got louder, former Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Minister Sevoor S Ramachandran had said in January that the Tamil Nadu government had retrieved about 40,000 hectares of temple land from encroachers in the last five years. However, the recent report stood in complete contradiction to the claims made by him.
Now, the Madras High Court had asked the DMK government to file a report over the missing temple land. A bench of Justices N. Kirubakaran and T.V. Thamilselvi asked the Government Counsel Richard Wilson to ensure that a counter affidavit in this regard was filed by July 5.
While trusts operating temples have been leasing the lands for commercial purposes, most often it failed to keep a check on the encroachment. The encroachment on the temple land has got bigger and wider in the last three decades, sometimes in connivance of tainted trust members as alleged.
The court has asked the government to furnish the details and survey numbers of the lands mentioned in the policy note of 1984-85 and those mentioned in the latest record. The court was hearing a writ petition which insisted on recovering the missing land to use it to derive income from them to maintain the institutions besides performing prayers and rituals.
There has been a demand to free temples from government control. The DMK government has now made available online records of temple lands in order to ensure transparency. It also claimed to have been working on retrieving the missing lands.
Recently, the HR and CE department took control of a 32-ground property linked to a temple with a market value of Rs 160 crore near Poonamallee High Road in Kilpauk. The land belongs to the Kancheepuram Ekambareswarar Temple and is a part of a 141-ground land parcel of the temple. However, this land was not trespassed but was leased out and has been returned following a court order.