The Madras High Court recently barred the establishment of colleges out of surplus funds from temples under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, without the permission of the Court in TR Ramesh v. State Of Tamil Nadu And Ors. On October 6, the DMK, which took power in Tamil Nadu in May, passed a government order from the higher education department allowing temple funds to be used to open colleges. The order, signed by now-retired Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu, also stated that four colleges established with these funds, for which admissions have been completed, must begin Hindu religion courses within a month.
The Court was hearing a petition filed by the president of the ‘Temple Worshippers Society,’ which was challenging a government order dated October 6, 2021, that allowed temple funds to be used to establish colleges.
The petitioner, who appeared in person, claimed that the colleges were established in violation of the 1959 Act and the Board of Trustees Rules enacted under it.
The state government was accused of circumventing these rules by establishing colleges without appointing trustees. Furthermore, a proposal to establish educational institutions with surplus temple funds could only come from the trustees to the Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, and neither the Commissioner nor the State Higher Education Department had the authority to do so.
The petitioner also stated that such funds can only be used to establish an educational institution if the curriculum includes a Hindu faith course.
R Shunmugasundaram, the Advocate-General, argued that the move was legal under Section 97 of the 1959 Act, which governs the ‘public good’ fund. While steps are being taken to fill vacancies among trust members, the AG stated that in the absence of such, a ‘fit person’ can be deemed to be allowed to discharge its duties.
Even if the State’s position is accepted, the question of whether the temples’ transfer of funds to the public good fund was voluntary in the circumstances arose, according to the Court.
The Bench ordered that the respondents file counter-affidavits within three weeks and that they be forwarded to the petitioner. The petitioner will then have a week to file any rebuttals before the matter is rescheduled for a hearing on December 20, 2021, according to the Court.