The Tamil Nadu government on Monday informed the Madras High Court that it has decided to stop a move of utilizing surplus funds lying with the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department for COVID-19 mitigation efforts and also to withdraw the circular in this regard.
M Karthikeyan, counsel for the HR&CE department made this submission when the plea moved by the publisher of a Tamil daily and others, challenging the circular issued by the government of Tamil Nadu on April 24, came up before the special bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Sathyanarayana.
"The circular is likely to be withdrawn and the department is not insisting on any such contribution from such temples," Karthikeyan said to the bench, which conducted the hearing through video conference.
The petitioners submitted that the HR&CE Commissioner had illegally issued a circular directing temples in the categories specified to mandatorily contribute substantial amounts from their surplus fund to the Chief Minister's Public Relief Fund to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
They contended that the Commissioner has no authority to issue such a circular, particularly when these temples, "which are under the orders of the government", have remained closed for two months due to the lockdown.
"...And therefore there is no current flow of revenue in these temples and such a circular is contrary to the applicable law about surplus (funds) in temples, " the petitioners said.
Recording the submission, the bench adjourned the matter to May 8 and directed Karthikeyan to produce the relevant order passed by the Commissioner of the department, withdrawing the circular.
"In the meanwhile, the department shall not act upon the circular, against the temples included in the said circular," the bench said.