In a setback to the MK Stalin government, the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) of which wanted to start colleges at eight places in the state, the Madras High Court on 15 November restrained the department from establishing new colleges other than four already set up.
The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu issued the orders on a writ petition that TR Ramesh ― J Sai Deepak earned his fame as a lawyer, fighting his case of freeing temples from state control ― of Chennai had filed, challenging the government order issued by the Higher Education Department permitting setting up of colleges by HR&CE department.
The petitioner contended that the funds of the temple should be utilised for the restoration and renovation of the relevant temples and the decision on financial matters could be taken up by the trustees and not the fit persons who are appointed on an ad hoc basis for running the administration.
Ramesh alleged that the steps for establishing a college by the Mylapore Kapaleeswarar temple administration at Kolathur, the constituency represented by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, were taken in haste and no proper proposal or request had been made by the concerned temple trustees.
Advocate-General (A-G) R Shanmugasundaram informed the Madras High Court that four colleges were already established at Kolathur in Chennai, Tiruchengode, in Namakkal, Oddanchatram in Dindigul and Vilathikulam in Thoothukudi and admission process is going on. And four other colleges would be set up soon.
The Tamil Nadu A-G contended that once a part of the temple fund is deposited with the common good funds under control of the commissioner of HR&CE, such funds could be utilised for starting educational institutions by the department.
The practice of HR&CE establishing colleges is not new, the A-G said, adding that it was started 60 years ago with the setting up of Parasakthi College in Kutralam and the institution is being running commendably.
After listening to the arguments of both sides, the Madras High Court bench restrained HR&CE department from starting any new colleges without appointing trustees for the particular temples and the consent of the court other than the four already set up. The functioning of the four colleges already set is subject to the outcome of the petition.
The Madras High Court bench held only the trustees are entrusted with the powers to manage the properties and offerings of a temple and the Fit Person cannot decide on financial matters as he is a stop gap arrangement.
The HR&CE department is directed to ensure introduction of a subject on Hindu religion on a regular stream basis within four months in the colleges established already, otherwise they cannot go on functioning.
It may be noted that the Madras High Court had recently put brakes on HR&CE department from going ahead with its ambitious temple gold monetising programme on the grounds that only the trustees of the relevant temple are authorised to decide on disposing of properties or valuables.