The Madras High Court on Friday directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department to redraw the schedule for the construction of strong rooms in as many as 3,087 temples for safeguarding idols and other artefacts.
Unhappy with the 2021 deadline fixed by the department for completing the task, the court ordered the department to make sure that all temples in the State had strong rooms in a year from now.
Justice R. Mahadevan granted time till July 30 for Additional Advocate General (AAG) P.H. Arvindh Pandian to submit the revised schedule. The time was granted after perusing an affidavit filed by HR&CE Commissioner R. Jaya, who listed several constraints in constructing strong rooms in all temples.
The affidavit stated that strong rooms with a ‘double lock’ system were already available in 11,512 temples in the State. Further, 19 Icon Centres had also been established in select temples.
As many as 3,087 temples did not have strong rooms, though 1,096 of them had adequate space on their premises for such rooms.
Construction of any kind on a temple premises could be carried out only as per Agamic principles and Silpa Sastras.
Further, a Division Bench of the High Court, in another case, had constituted a Heritage Committee and made it mandatory to obtain its approval before carrying out major work inside ancient temples, the Commissioner said in the affidavit. Detailing the schedule, she said the construction of strong rooms for all the 3,087 temples would take until December 31, 2021 for completion.
Wondering why it would take so much time, the judge doubted her submission that 11,512 temples already had strong rooms.
To this, the AAG said the information was borne out from records available with the department. He pointed out that many ancient temples had inbuilt strong rooms used traditionally for storing idols, jewels and other valuables.
The HR&CE officials had to just fix closed circuit television cameras and burglar alarms in these rooms, he said.
Explaining the difficulties in establishing strong rooms, the AAG said 34,093 temples had an annual income of less than Rs. 10,000, and 3,550 temples were earning less than Rs. 2 lakh per annum in revenue. These temples were struggling to perform
even once a day.
However, ‘Elephant’ G. Rajendran, one of the two petitioners, accused the Commissioner of having filed a false affidavit claiming that more than 11,000 temples had strong rooms.
Srirangam temple case
Subsequently, when the judge took up a case related to the alleged theft of idols and artefacts from the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam in Tiruchi, the counsel for the temple refuted the allegations in toto and claimed that all the idols and artefacts were intact.
He said the police had made inquiries into the allegations, and that the temple administration had taken up a survey of all 54
in February this year.
After directing him to share the relevant records with the petitioner by July 18, the judge adjourned further hearing on the case to July 20.
As many as 3,087 temples did not have strong rooms, though 1,096 of them had adequate space for them
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