HR and CE- Rogue Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu

Landmark Judgments

On 13 December 1951, a Division  Bench of Hon’ble Madras High Court presided by the Learned Judges Justice  Satyanarayana Rao and Justice Rajagopalan passed two landmark judgments.
•1952 I MLJ 481 – Devaraja Shenoy vs.  State of Madras – quashing the Government order to take over the administration  of the Shri Venkataramana Temple in Mulkipetta.
•1952 I MLJ 557 – Shri Lakshmindra  Thirtha Swamiar of Shri Shirur Mutt vs. State of Madras quashing the Government  order to take over the administration of Shri Udupi Krishna Temple and Shri  Sabhanayagar Temple in Chidambaram.

In the Shirur Mutt Case, many  provisions of the new HR & CE Act of 1951 were held ultra vires of the  Constitution. The Division Bench clearly defined a Religious Denomination,  their rights - religious and administrative. It also explained how these rights  were intermingled and could not be separated in the case of a Mathathipathi and  since it was the same with the Podu Dikshitars of Chidambaram Temple, it  equated them to Mathathipathis.

Equally important were the findings  of the Division Bench that the attempt of the Board and the Commissioner HR  & CE to take over the temples were not only unconstitutional but bad on  merits.

Appeals to Supreme Court
The Government of Madras filed three  appeals against these two landmark verdicts. On 9 February 1954, a five-judge  Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the civil appeal  39/1953 after recording the statement of the Advocate General of the Madras  Government that the G.O. passed to take over the Chidambaram Shri Sabhanayagar  Temple would be withdrawn. The Government sought no leave and none was granted.

Similarly the Government’s Civil  Appeal no.15/1953 filed against the verdict of Hon’ble Madras Court in the Shri  Venkataramana Temple Mulkipetta was also dismissed after the Government offered  to withdraw the G.O. appointing the Executive Officer.

The Government of Madras contested  only the Civil Appeal 38 of 1953, pertaining to the Shirur Mutt Case and even  in that appeal did not contest on merits. The Advocate General argued only on  constitutional grounds. This was clearly recorded in the Supreme Court  judgment.

Thus, it is amply clear that the HR  & CE Department and the Government never had any case right from the  beginning on merits, and they simply wanted to take over the administration of  large and famous temples to pave way for the takeover of all other temples in  the Presidency.

The 1954 Supreme Court judgment in the Shirur Mutt Case
The judgment of the Constitution  Bench of the Supreme Court in the appeal related to the Shirur Mutt (AIR 1954  SC 282) and the judgment by another Constitution Bench in the Venkataramana  Devaru vs. State of Mysore (1958 SCR 895) are landmark judgments that Courts in  India are expected to follow regarding Article 26 of the Indian Constitution  and Denomination rights.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court agreed  with the Hon’ble Madras High Court that many of the sections of the 1951 HR  & CE Act were ultra vires the Constitution. It also clearly observed that  while the legislature could seek to regulate the administration, it must always  leave the administration to the denomination. It struck down the sections of  the 1951 Act which sought to appoint Executive Officers to religious  institutions as arbitrary and ultra vires the Constitution. The Advocate  General of Madras agreed with the Court and said he could not defend those  sections.

Major Fraud by the Madras Government in the 1959 Act
Left with no choice but to come up  with an amended Act in light of the above judgments of the Madras High Court  and Supreme Court of India, the Government of Madras passed a new Act known as  the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Act of 1959 (Act 22 of 1959).

In that amended Act, it committed  serious frauds which till today continue unchallenged. To understand these  frauds we need to know more about the 1954 Supreme Court judgment in the Shirur  Mutt Case.

Under the 1951 Act, the HR & CE  Dept. had powers under sections 56, 58(3)(b) and 63 to 68 to appoint an  Executive Officer to religious institutions including Mutts. Of these, sections  56 and 63-68 were held ultra vires the Constitution of India and were struck  down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the above-mentioned judgment. The same  judgment upheld Sec. 58(3)(b) as valid (this section was earlier struck down by  the Division Bench of Madras High Court) since there were adequate appeal  safeguards and since the Executive Officer so appointed could only be a servant  of the Trustee and could not be empowered to act as the Trustee himself.

Any honest and law-abiding person  would imagine that the Madras Government, in deference to the Supreme Court of  India and to meet the ends of justice, would have deleted the two sets of  sections struck down and retained the section upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme  Court.

What happened was exactly the  opposite.

The Government of Madras introduced  a new section [section 45] in the 1959 Act which was even more arbitrary and draconian  than Sec. 56 of the 1951 Act. It also retained the Sections 63-68 in the new  Act which now carried the numbers 71-76.

The only section relating to  appointment of Executive Officer that was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court  was not carried in the new Act. But this would not seem strange if we  understand that the intention of the Government and the Department was that no appeal  safeguards should be provided to the Trustees of Hindu Institutions against the  Department’s illegal and arbitrary orders. Sec. 58(3)(b) of the 1951 Act had  earlier afforded such safeguards – it was therefore removed by the Government.

More intriguing is the fact that  this rogue department continue to appoint Executive Officers under Sec. 64 of  the 1959 Act (the equivalent of Sec. 58 in the 1951 Act) without any power to  do so. For example, the Deputy Commissioner in 1963 modified the scheme for Shri  Kamakshi Amman Temple of Kachipuram, which is under the ownership of the Kanchi  Mutt. While proceeding to modify the scheme under Sec. 64 of the Act, the  Deputy Commissioner appointed an Executive Officer and this is an illegal act.

These frauds show there were  adequate number of scoundrels and scalawags in the HR & CE Department sixty  years ago, and we all know the Dept. has no dearth of such people now.

Going against the dictum of the  Hon’ble High Court and the Hon’ble Supreme Court did not stop here. One classic  example of the arrogance of the Government is the amendment they brought out  soon after the Full Bench judgment in the Rajan Kattalai Case in the Supreme  Court (1965 SCR (3) 17). In this case, to get over the quashing of the  Extension of the Executive Officer’s appointment, the Government amended the HR  & CE Act introducing Sec. 75-A which gave such extensions retrospective  effect notwithstanding any judgments by any courts including the Supreme Court.  This attempt to retain control over Rajan Kattalai of Tiruvarur Thiagarajaswami  Devasthanam in utter contempt to the judgment of the Highest Court of the  land in that case was thwarted by the Hon’ble Madras High Court. The  Hon’ble High Court of Madras, held:

“by introducing Section 75-A the  Legislature has simply directed the Commissioner of Hindu Religious and  Charitable Endowments and Executive Officer of Sri Thiagarajaswami Temple to  disobey or disregard the decision of the highest court of the land in S.D.G.  Pandara Sannadhi v. State of Madras (1965) 2 M.L.J. 167. The obvious purpose of Section 75-A extending the impugned  notification is to nullify the effect of this decision of the Supreme Court.”  (emphasis added).

In view of this judgment of the  Madras High Court, the Government could not succeed in retaining administration  of Rajan Kattalai Endowment, but this and other illegal sections 75-B and 75-C  are still part of the HR & CE Act, not only in utter disregard of the  dictum of the Supreme Court of India, but also in violation of Article  31A(1)(b) of the Constitution.

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