The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department of Tamil Nadu was formed in 1960. Prior to that, under the British rule, the then Madras Presidency had passed the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act in 1923. I want to clearly establish the fact that this was, is and will remain a Hindu Religion related establishment.
This story that I am about to relate goes back over a hundred and twenty years! A land supposedly gifted (Inam) by the kings centuries ago to the Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Devasthanam (MSD), changed hands from a Madurai temple priest (Bhattars) to some Chettiars and then from them to the Roman Catholic Mission of St. Mary’s Church (RCM) in 1894. The problem was that the land never belonged to the Bhattars – The Inam Register of 1863 clearly states the names of two Bhattars as the athakinama of Pagoda Meenakshi Sundershwarar and the inam is described as Devadayam for the archakal service, i. e. God’s income for the services rendered. This is quoted in the Supreme Court judgment.
I must clarify the word athakinama – this is mis-spelt as there is no such word in Sanskrit. It refers to either Athyathykama (Perpetual beneficiary) or atheenamaga (as ownership) of the temple. One may argue that this was deep in Tamil Nadu and question the usage of a Sanskrit word – but there are several stone inscriptions that state that in legal decrees, Sanskrit words were used.
Back to the Bhattars, the priest family. It was their responsibility to till the land and pay the temple and keep a portion for their efforts. They never owned it and hence the sale to the Chettiars was illegal. This 49 acres of land belonging to Madurai Temple, is now located in the center of Madurai and is worth Rs.600 crores. And despite a Supreme Court verdict granting it to the MSD, the RCM continues to occupy it. And the then HR & CE ministry in the first Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is responsible. It is under their watch that a Tehsildar wrote that RCM is the right beneficiary, quoting the 1894 purchase! Contempt of Court? In my book (and I am sure many of the readers will agree) it is Contempt of Court of an order passed by a Constitutional Bench. The 19-page judgment can be found at the end of this post. It is stunning that the DMK government did not approach the Supreme Court and get back the rights to this prime property.
The saga of this story is illustrated in Figure 1 below:
From reading the Supreme Court (SC) judgment, it is clear that the bench, headed by M Hidayatullah had diligently gone through all the judgments. It is interesting to read what the SC had to say about the Madras High Court ruling (page 17):
The next question which was considered by the High Court as whether resuming and regranting the inam to a Hindu temple, offended the Constitution. The High Court did not accept this submission. It is obvious that by the transfer of the inam the temple was deprived of a benefit and the transferee had no right to hold that benefit. What was done was to restore to the temple what it had lost and this was not putting a denominational religious institution at an advantage.
The transferee in the above paragraph refers to the RCM (the Church).
What is the mischief here?
Why did the Inams Settlement Tehsildar overrule the Supreme Court judgment? A section of this report where he is citing the 1894 purchase by RCM and thereby giving it back to them is shown below in Figure 2. Did the concerned tehsildar, K A Karuppaiah, exceed his brief?
More importantly, what was the HR & CE department doing? Here was a prime piece of real estate in the town of Madurai, worth several crores and they just looked the other way! DMK has some explaining to do.
How did this come to light?
That some concerned citizens never gave up fighting for what they believed was temple land is obvious. A concerned individual decided to find out in 2013 the root cause of this dispute and filed a Right To Information (RTI) which unearthed these details and one other unfortunate fact – In 1982, the then Tamil Nadu government under M G Ramachandran gave the patta to RCM and then fixed Rs.8406.24 per fasal (harvest)! And that amount was not paid by the Tamil Nadu government to the temple! For a 49-acre land, a paltry amount of Rs.8406 was being charged and even that the Tamil Nadu government did not pay. The RTI goes on to state that efforts are being made to collect this amount.
This is just one instance of injustice meted out to a temple. There are many more. The current government can start cleaning house by making this right. Do it now.
Copy of the Supreme Court judgment:
The Roman Catholic Mission … by on Scribd
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