TN Government withdraws circular which sought excess temple fund transfer

A writ petition was filed by a swayamsevak challenging the impugned circular passed by the Commissioner Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments, wherein the excess funds in 47 scheduled mentioned temples was sought to be transferred to the Chief Ministers COVID19 welfare fund. 

The Petition states: “ a order bearing Na Ka No 18104/2020 stating that COVID19 is prevailing in Tamilnadu and the needs of the poor should be taken care of. To meet their needs, temple funds are deployed to the Chief Ministers’ Relief Fund. It is presumed that surplus funds are available in the temples and it could be utilized for the purpose of meeting the alleged exigencies. After extracting Sec.36B of the Tamilnadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, a direction is issued on 22nd April 2020 to all the Executive Officers of the temples and the subordinate officers of the Commissioner, viz the Joint Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Assistant Commissioners to remit the funds as set forth in the annexure to the impugned order. It was also directed the concerned officers to dispatch the sum by 24th April 2020; i.e. within 2 days of the order, through electronic transfer. A sum of 10 crore is sought to be diverted in this process, which was relied upon Sec 36 for passing the impugned order which has no facts. Further more, there is no record to show that the funds that are available with the temple are in excess warranting utilization for a different purpose than one envisaged under sec. 66 and the petitioner submitted that the respondent cannot misconstrue the non-obstante clause and claim to possess superior powers with themselves. Even the plain reading of the provisions confers no such powers and the very order passed is without legal sanction and is liable to be struck down and plead for justice”. 

The main grounds raised are that the impugned circular is per se illegal and non-est in law for the reason that the Commissioner HR&CE has exceeded his jurisdiction in issuing the said circular. 

It was argued by the counsel that the HR&CE Act contemplates that in the case of utilising excess funds it is for the trustees of such temples to take a decision and give a public notice, and wait for mandatory 30 days and pass an order for using such excess funds. 

Against this order an appeal lies to the Commissioner HR&CE. 

Instead of following these mandatory provisions the Commissioner HR & CE in his circular had directed the trustees of 47 temples to transfer the excess funds violating all mandatory principles. The Division Bench accepted the arguments of the counsels and directed the Special Government Pleader HR& CE as to how he could defend the order passed by the Commissioner HR& CE. 

The Government Pleader immediately submitted that he has got instructions that the Government has decided to withdraw the circular. The court questioned whether the circular has already been withdrawn or not, for which the Government pleader replied that it would be withdrawn soon. 

The court passed an order directing the State Government to withdraw the impugned circular and file an affidavit to this effect on 08/05/2020. At the same time, late in the evening the Government has withdrawn the circular based on the directions given by the court.

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