Detain temple land encroachers under Goonda Act: Madras HC

The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed Tamil Nadu’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to issue a public notification calling upon the encroachers of temple properties across the state to voluntarily surrender the lands within a stipulated period of time.

It directed the HR&CE Department to specifically mention in the notification that if the encroachers do not voluntarily surrender the temple properties within the time frame stipulated, criminal proceedings will be taken against them including under the Goondas Act.

Justice S. Subramanian, in the order, said: “The respondent (state government and HR&CE Department and DGP) shall not hesitate to invoke the Goondas Act against such professional land grabbers and persons involved in encroachment and illegal activities in respect of the temple properties at large for personal and unjust gains.”

He made it clear that action be initiated against the encroachers under the HR&CE Act or the Goondas Act as per the facts of the encroachment concerned.

The court also ordered the constitution of a special cell to retrieve the encroached temple properties.

Justice Subramanian said that only officers with impeccable integrity and devotion to duty be made part of the cell and their number be displayed prominently in all the temples in the state as well as on the notice boards of HR&CE Department offices. This, according to the court, is to ensure that people interested in protecting temple lands can lodge complaints.

Terming fraudulent and illegal encroachment of temple properties a crime against the society at large, he also added that misappropriation of temple funds was also an offence, and all such offenses must be registered and the offenders prosecuted by the state.

He said that the active or passive collaboration of HR&CE officials cannot be overruled and added that such dereliction of duty on the part of public officials is to be viewed seriously and all appropriate action in this regard have to be taken.

The court said that acts of “Fences eating the Crop” should be dealt with sternly. He also said that it was the duty of the courts also to protect and safeguard the properties of religious and charitable institutions from wrongful claims of misappropriation.

Advocate General R.Shanmugasundaram informed the court that HR&CE Department had obtained a order canceling the “Patta” (revenue document on land ownership) with respect to 9,474 acres of land.

He also said that the details of temple properties had also been uploaded by the HR&CE Department website and the Department had engaged 142 surveyors and 50 rover equipment to earmark the boundaries of temple lands.