‘Not secular money’: Madras HC bars HR&CE Dept from opening new colleges

The bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee restrained the HR&CE department from opening new colleges without appointing trustees for those particular temples.
Madras High Court building
Madras High Court building
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The Madras High Court on Monday, November 15, barred the state government's Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department from opening new colleges in the state. The department was planning to open eight new arts and science colleges in various districts of Tamil Nadu.

The first bench of the Madras High Court comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Adikesavalu issued the orders on a public interest litigation filed by TR Ramesh challenging the government order of the Tamil Nadu Higher Education department permitting the HR&CE department to open new colleges. The petitioner alleged that steps for establishing a college by the Kapaleeshwar temple at Kolathur, the Assembly constituency of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, were taken in a rush and proper procedures were not followed in establishing the college.

Ramesh, in his petition, alleged that funds of the temples should be used for the restoration and renovation of the temples concerned. In the petition, he said decisions on financial matters can be taken only by the trustees and not those persons appointed on an adhoc basis for managing the administration of the temples.

Tamil Nadu Advocate General R Shanmugasundaram informed the court that of the eight colleges sanctioned by the Higher Education Department, four have already started functioning -- Kolathur in Chennai, Thiruchengode in Namakkal, Oddanchathram in Dindigul and Vilathikulam in Thoothukudi — and admission proceedings have begun. The AG told the court that four other colleges would be set up soon.

He informed the court that once a part of the temple fund is deposited under the common goods funds with the HR&CE Commissioner, it could be utilized for opening new colleges. He said the process of opening educational institutions by the HR&CE department is not new and cited the example of Paraskathi college under the department at Kuttalam which was functioning in a commendable manner for the past six decades.

However, the High Court restrained the HR&CE department from opening new colleges without appointing trustees for those particular temples, as also without the consent of the court other than the four already set up. According to Live Law, the court said that surplus funds of temples are inevitably the offerings given for a particular cause, and any decision to divert it cannot be taken in absence of Trustees. 

The bench said only the trustees are allowed the powers to manage the properties and offerings of a temple and another person cannot decide on financial matters as he was only a stop-gap arrangement. 

Live Law reports that the court said though the move to impart education should be appreciated, the money belonging to a religious denomination cannot be treated as "secular money," for a secular purpose. 

The court directed the HR&CE department to introduce a new subject on Hindu religion on a regular stream basis within four months in the colleges under the department that have already started functioning. The court directed the AG that these colleges will not be allowed to function if a new subject on Hindu religion is not taught on a regular basis, and that even the functioning of the four established colleges will depend on the court’s final verdict. 

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