Govt. may submit tax-free budget if temple lands and arrears of income are fully recovered: judge

Division bench says court won’t stop until HR&CE recovers every overdue penny and every inch of land

Division bench says court won’t stop until HR&CE recovers every overdue penny and every inch of land

The Tamil Nadu government can present a tax-free budget if the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department (HR&CE) succeeds in recovering thousands of crores of rupees of rent arrears from those occupying the temple lands, in addition to recover several lakh acres under illegal occupation and put these properties to good use, Madras High Court Judge R. Mahadevan said on Friday.

“The government does not need to give people gifts if the HR&CE department recovers the temple lands and collects the rental arrears. Until this goal is achieved, we [the court] will not quit the matter either,” senior judge told NRR government special litigant Arun Natarajan, while presiding over a special division bench, along with judge PD Audikesavalu, to hear a batch of temple-related cases.

“You must impress upon your officials that service in this department is divine in nature. Advise them to reclaim every inch of temple land under unauthorized occupation and to cancel all tenancy deeds executed in violation of the law. You should also appoint qualified chartered accountants to audit temple funds. The work should not be performed by engaging the services of lower level personnel,” the judge said.

Also stating that some private trusts and individuals appeared to be involved in collecting donations, through online crowdfunding, for the renovation of some temples, Justice Mahadevan said, “These websites must be banned. No private person or trust can be authorized to collect money under the guise of renovation of temples. A report of action must be filed in this regard at the next hearing date.

Earlier, Mr. Natarajan said that religious institutions under the HR&CE department own 2.04 lakh acres of wetlands and 2.53 lakh acres of drylands. Of 3,66,019 temple properties, only 99,077 were earning income. As a result, Department officials were instructed to place the remaining 2,66,942 properties in the income-seeking category as well. He also said that 1.23 lakh of tenants were cultivating the temple land.

The government had constituted 10 Revenue Courts and 3 Camping Revenue Courts with special assistant collectors to sue for recovery of land rental income arrears, set fair rent for farmland and evict defaulting tenants. Stating that the land of religious institutions was reconciled with the Department of Revenue’s Tamil Nilam database, the government’s special litigant said that 5,82,023.89 acres in total matched the database.

Giving a breakdown, he said the details of 3.39 lakh acres fully matched the title documents, ‘Patta’, ‘Chitta’ and ‘Adangal’, while the details of 1.73 lakh acres partially matched. In addition, 68,219 acres had been identified as new properties and steps had been taken to claim them. The government’s special litigant also briefed the court on proceedings to recover more than 16,527 acres of temple land.