Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department on Wednesday told the Madras High Court that funds of popular and financially stable temples in the State had never drained and instead the revenue of these temples had been growing manifold with the passage of time.
The submission was made in response to a public interest litigation petition which alleged that diversion of funds of affluent temples led to draining of wealth and consequent interference by donors who gain control over the institutions in the guise of philanthropy and wield enormous power.
Rangarajan Narasimhan of Srirangam had filed the PIL petition with a plea to quash a Government Order (G.O.) issued on May 15 for transferring surplus funds to the tune of 10 crore from the coffers of 20 rich temples in the State so that renovation works could be carried out in 1,000 financially unstable village temples.
He had questioned the authority of the government to order diversion of funds when proposal for any diversion must emerge from the rich temples concerned and not from the government. However, in its counter affidavit, the HR&CE department asserted the authority of the government to divert the funds.
It claimed that the petitioner had deliberately termed utilisation of funds for the benefit of poor temples as misappropriation in order to show the department in poor light. It told a Division Bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha that there was no malfeasance or misfeasance in diversion of funds.
The small, poor and needy village temples would not know the big temples which were having surplus funds and willing to support their cause. Hence, the department acts as a bridge between the two, the counter read and went on to state that all funds would be deposited in Village Temple Renovation Fund.
Listing out funds available for renovation of temples, the department said the State government grants 6 crore every year. It had granted 24 crore for renovation of 228 needy temples since 2011. In addition, the Central Finance Commission had sanctioned 90 crore for renovation of 250 temples during the same period.
Apart from these, there was also Temple Renovation and Charitable Fund, HR&CE Administrative Fund and Tourism Fund under which government had granted 10.22 crore to 19 temples in last eight years. Asian Development Bank too had given external funding of 51.06 crore to 11 temples since 2017.
It was apart from all these, surplus funds of affluent temples was also diverted for the welfare of the poor temples in accordance with Section 36 of the HR&CE Act, the department said and claimed that all procedures were followed as enunciated under the Utilisation of Surplus Funds Rules.