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Jaya boost to temples

Chennai, May 7: The Jayalalithaa government today moved three Bills in the Assembly to benefit Hindu religious institutions, including one to increase incomes of temples by revising the rates for leasing out their immovable properties and to protect their land by initiating action against encroachers.

The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Act, 2003, piloted in the House by minister P.C. Ramasamy, proposed setting up a committee for the revised rent.

It will also be armed with powers to “terminate” any lease agreement if the occupant refuses to pay the enhanced rent. The committee will decide the compensation on the basis of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in the state and the Central Land Acquisition Act.

Temples occupy a key position in Tamil Nadu’s agrarian economy by virtue of holding vast stretches of land gifted by the rulers of yore and the government was concerned that the “ground rent” charged for let-out temple land was “abnormally low when compared to the present market rental values”.

The low rents, coupled with the absence of any periodic revision, had adversely affected the temples incomes and was telling on their maintenance and even affecting performance of the daily puja, the minister said in the statement of objectives for moving the Bill. He complained that in several places, lessees have put up permanent structures on temple land with or without the permission of the authorities.

The Bill says anybody aggrieved by the committee’s order can appeal to the commissioner for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments or, at a higher level, move a “revision petition” in high court. But no case can be instituted in a civil court.

The second Bill, the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (Second Amendment) Act, 2003, widens the scope of Hindu “religious institutions”. So far, “samadhis” and “brindhavans” — where bodies of holy men are interred and which have over the years “acquired the status of a religious institution” — were not covered by the parent Act that includes “mutts”, temples or specific endowments.

The third Bill seeks to protect temple properties from the ambit of the Centre’s limitation Act, 1963, which stipulates a timeframe for claiming liabilities.

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