Supreme Court Judgment in Chidambaram Temple Case - What Next

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The  landmark judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, quashing  the appointment of an “Executive Officer” by the Tamil Nadu  Government for Sri Sabhanayagar (Sri Nataraja) Temple in Chidambaram  was delivered on 6th January 2014.

Chidambaram  temple, from its inception, was administered by a community of  Brahmins known as “Podu Dikshitars”. They Brahmins are found only  in Chidambaram, the ancient town of the Chola Kingdom, which has been  their domicile for more than twenty centuries. Chidambaram Temple is  a fine example of a Temple belonging to a religious denomination. The  Manual of South Arcot District published in 1878 CE records that Sri  Nataraja temple of Chidambaram is the property of the community of  Podu Dikshitars.

For  the Podu Dikshitars, it was their second victory in the Supreme  Court, ironically, on the same issue. When the Madras Government  tried to take-over the Chidambaram Temple in 1951 through a  “notification”, the said notification was quashed by a Hon’ble  Division Bench of the Madras High Court by a judgment dated 13  December 1951. The Division bench, inter-alia observed “...we are  satisfied that the order on which the notification was issued is  without any foundation and proceeded on a total misconception of the  facts.”

It  took eight months for the Government of Tamil Nadu - after the  pronouncement of the judgment by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Dr.  Subramanian Swamy & others vs. State of Tamil Nadu & others – Chidambaram Temple Case – to wake up from its slumber and issue  a Government Order to remove the Hundies illegally installed by it in  the temple and the snacks stand it had forced on the temple, styling  it fraudulently as the “Prasad” stall. However, the Tamil Nadu  Government did state in that Government Order No. 232 dated 19  September 2014 an important dictum of the Apex Court found in the  judgment, viz.,

“Even  if the Management is taken over to remedy the evil of mismanagement,  it must be handed over immediately after the evil is remedied.  Therefore, the management by State can only be for a limited period,  failure to prescribe the duration in the impugned order would make it  liable to be set aside...”

This,  in essence, is and should be the principle, by which Central or State  Governments, as appropriate, can take over the management of an  establishment or organisation for reasons of better management. For  example, when the Reserve Bank of India feels that the Board of  Directors of a Bank or a Cooperative Bank should be suspended and  replaced by a Board constituted by it, it would do it only to rectify  the evils caused by mismanagement. And the new Board constituted by  the Central Banking Authority would be for only a limited period, say  6 months to 1 year.

Company  Law Board adopts parallel methods in the matters of Limited Companies  and so do the State Governments in securing the administration of  Cooperative Societies when serious mismanagement occurs in such  organisations. The takeovers are always for the specific purposes of  curing the mismanagement and weeding out the violators of law.  The  period of such takeovers is always a limited period, which is spelt  out clearly at the time of takeover.

The  obvious question now

Why  is it that the Tamil Nadu Government, after specifically stating “the  Management by State can be only for a limited period” in the  Government Order No.232 passed by it in September 2014, continues to  retain absolute of control of 38,000 Hindu temples for more than 6  decades?

How  Hindu temples suffer under Government control

Once  taken over, such Hindu Institutions would be quickly converted as  extensions of the Government Department of Hindu Religious Endowments  and permanently remain under the control of the Government. The  temple staff including priests would play second fiddle to the deity  and would primarily be made to wait on the ignoramus but pompous  political goons and on the arrogant and corrupt Babus.

To  begin with, Government would appropriate one-sixth of the gross  income of the temple as “administrative” fees. Another 2/5th of  the gross income would be spent on staff salaries (But Archakas who  do the poojas would be paid no salaries or peanuts as salaries). Thus  56% of the temple’s gross revenue straightway goes for  administration expenses. In large temples like Pazhani Temple, less  than 2% of the temple income is utilised for poojas and rituals.

Volunteers  and devotees of the temples would be chased away, so that more people  can be appointed as “staff” by the Government. Such appointments  are ‘Capital Gains’ for the party in power and for the Babus.

Funds  would be then diverted from temples having good and reasonable  revenues to the Commissioner’s Common Good Fund, the Chief  Minister’s Annadhanam Scheme, Chief Minister’s free wedding  schemes, etc. which have nothing to do with the respective temples’  tenets and ordained charities but are designed to serve vote-bank  politics.

Ghosalas  and Veda Patasalas and Agama Patasalas attached to the temples would  be systematically closed. Funds from specific endowments would be  diverted for other purposes.

Government  would appoint its Babus as “Fit Persons” instead of Trustees and  Trust Boards and thus Temples would become fully under its control.

Government  Officials’ greed in awarding contracts would result in  indiscriminate “renovations” of temples. Polished tiles and slabs  would be laid instead of ancient granite flooring. Ancient mandaps would be demolished. Incongruous cement monstrosities would take avatars as new mandaps.  Ancient Inscriptions would be either sand-blasted or uprooted.  Irreplaceable paintings would be painted-over by charlatans. Icons  and sculptures would be “damaged” so that they can be replaced  and the originals smuggled out.

There  will be no external audit for the temple expenses. There will no  audit at all for renovation and consecration expenses.

Audit  objections piled up from 1982 to 2010 for Tamil Nadu temples totalled  a massive 7,39,000 objections. Most of the officials against whom  such audit objections are pending are long retired and many of them  even dead.

There  will be systematic alienation and encroachment of immovable  properties of the Hindu temples and their endowments.   Between 1986  and 2005 Tamil Nadu temples simply ‘lost’ 47,000 acres of land.  Currently more than 10 million square feet of valuable sites  belonging to Hindu Temples in Tamil Nadu are under encroachment.

Srirangam  Ranganathaswamy Temple, which is the favourite worshipping place of  the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, has a performance record 0.5%  collection of the due income. That is, 99.5% of the rentals are  uncollected.

Less  than two per cent of the due income of the temples is realised by the  Tamil Nadu HR & CE Department from Hindu temple and endowment  properties. Tamil Nadu Hindus suffer a loss of Rs.5000 to 6000 crores  annually due to this.

Put  in proper perspective, this huge amount can help Hindus construct  State of the Art hospitals and medical colleges in all Tamil Nadu  districts, engineering colleges that rival IITs, fully equipped  schools in every Taluk, scholarships to half a million students, free  medical treatment to half a million needy Hindus, run Ghosalas,  publish 100s of thousands of books – year after year.

Do  we need the Government to administer our temples and charities?

For  two generations, Hindu Citizens in India, especially temple  worshippers, have been denied their fundamental religious rights to  profess, practice and propagate their religion, by the systematic and  permanent interventions and takeovers by Governments in Hindu  Temples. In the guise of governing the secular aspects of temple  administration the State Governments have nearly destroyed the  religious and cultural ethos of Hindu temples. By denying the  rightful use of temple and endowment properties they have pulverized  Hindu charities aimed at providing values, health and education to  Hindus and their children, while Religious Missionaries bent on  conversion of Hindus, could do these unhindered with monies generated  from their properties and institutions and from free flowing foreign  funds.

Even  by the unconstitutional Acts that have been brought by various State  Governments, the Babus have no role inside Temples. They can be only  given powers that appertain to the properties of the temples and  those too for the purpose of ensuring the due income from the  properties of the temple is fully realised on time and given to the  temple trustees for temple purposes. Even Courts seem to have lost  sight of this fundamental principle. Besides government officials  have no in-depth knowledge of Hindu scriptures and practices, have no  idea of conservation and protection of temple structures, sculptures,  icons and paintings.

By  being present inside the temples at all times, the Government  servants working under political goons have deliberately kept the  true devotees and volunteers away from the fulcrum of temple  activities. Thus, far more money is spent in temples than that is  required at all and that too without any accountability. What could  be spent for propagation of particular temple tenets and charities is  spent on wasteful exercises and those activities that are aimed to  promote the name and fame of the Chief Minister and give freebies  aimed at vote-bank politics.

The  Chidambaram Temple judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court is clear.  There can be NO takeover of Hindu temples without substantial proven  mismanagement. Takeover is only to cure the mismanagement – limited  purpose and limited period of operation.

The  Writ Petition filed before the Supreme Court of India in the year  2012 by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati and two other Acharyas of the  Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, challenging many of the provisions of the  Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry Hindu Endowments and  Religious Institutions Acts as unconstitutional, is now slated for  final hearing in July 2016.

More  interested and affected parties are expected to implead in this Writ  Petition. It is high time Hindus take up the defence of their  fundamental religious rights in the Apex Court and get the dictum  pronounced in the Chidambaram Temple Judgment declared as LAW.

Devout  Hindus and sincere worshippers of Hindu Temples eagerly await a  judgment that carries the dictum of the Apex Court clearly laid down  in the Shirur Mutt Case (1954 AIR SC 282) and the Chidambaram Temple  Case. The Apex Court should also take into account the damages done  by the unlawful takeovers of temple administration by the continuing  State Governments.  It should come out with a general scheme of  administration that would ensure professional standards of  accounting, audit and reporting besides mandating that only men and  women of rectitude and steeped in religious devotion and scholarship  become temple trustees. These trustees should essentially belong to  the location of the temples. Such a judgment would make sure that the  fundamental religious rights of Hindu Citizens of this country are  not any longer rendered nugatory by the Governments and their corrupt  and misfit instrumentalities.

The  author is a banking professional and a research scholar of law  relating to Hindu Religious Institutions. He is also the President of  the Temple Worshippers Society in Chennai

First  published Click here to view

Also  read
1. Facts on Chidambaram Temple
2. Why  must temple collections be controlled by the Government
3. HR & CE - Rogue department of Govt of Tamil Nadu