Chennai: Coming down heavily on land sharks who have encroached the temple lands, the Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the Tamil Nadu government to initiate criminal proceedings against them including detaining them under the Goondas Act.
Apart from directing the state government to set up a special cell to retrieve the encroached temple properties from land sharks, Mr Justice S M Subramanian told the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to issue a public notification asking the encroachers across the State to voluntarily surrender the lands within a stipulated time.
If they failed to surrender the lands within the stipulated time frame, the government should initiate criminal proceedings against them including slapping the Goondas Act on them.
The Judge also said that only officers, known for their integrity and devotion to duty, should be part of the special cell. Their phone numbers should be displayed in all temples in the State and on notice boards of HR and CE Department offices so that people interested in protecting temple lands could lodge complaints.
The Judge, while hearing a plea challenging the suspension of Mylapore Peyalwar Temple Trustee Sridharan, also directed the Director General of Police (DGP) to provide protection to the officials engaged in retrieving the encroached properties from land sharks.
Making it clear that action should be initiated either under the HR and CE Act, 1959 or the criminal laws or the Goondas Act as per the facts of the encroachment concerned, the judge, while quashing the suspension of the Trustee, said “the respondents (State government, HR&CE Department and DGP) should not hesitate to invoke the provisions of 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.”
Noting that fraudulent and illegal encroachment of temple properties was a crime against the society at large, the Judge observed that misappropriation of temple funds was also undoubtedly an offence and all such offences must be registered and the offenders must be prosecuted by the State government.
“Temple properties are looted by greedy men and few professional criminals or land grabbers.
Active or passive contribution/collusion by HR&CE Department officials cannot be overruled,” he added.
The Judge said "these lapses, negligence and dereliction of duty on the part of such public officials are also to be viewed seriously and all appropriate actions in this regard are highly warranted… Instances are many where persons entrusted with the duty of managing and safeguarding the properties of temples, deities and Devaswom Boards have usurped and misappropriated such properties by setting up false claims of ownership or tenancy, or adverse possession. Such acts of ‘fences eating the crops’ should also be dealt with sternly,” he added. (UNI)