CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Tuesday dismissed writ petitions challenging the constitutional validity of three provisions of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act as amended. In his order on a batch of writ petitions by Adivaram Varthagargal Sangam, Palani, and 11 others challenging sections 78, 79 (3) and 109 of the Act, Justice K.Chandru said in the light of legal precedents, it should be stated that the challenge to the amendments could not be countenanced by the court and was liable to be rejected.
The amendment Act had validly classified encroachers, other interest holders and title holders of the properties and had treated them differently, he said. The provisions provided for a mechanism for religious institutions to secure their properties from encroachers and also for a speedy restoration of the properties without being driven to civil courts.
The petitioners said by the amendments, the legislation had carved out a class of persons who were not allowed to avail of the remedies by way of civil suit. The procedure provided under the Act was arbitrary and without guidelines. The executive authority had been given wide powers which were likely to be misused. While the land owners had been allowed to move the civil court, others such as persons whose tenancy had not been renewed or who made developments in the properties on hiring the land belonging to the temple had been denied any relief under the Act.
Mr.Justice Chandru said as per the amendments, in respect of encroachers, a procedural right of hearing had been given. Only on a prima facie conclusion that a person was an encroacher, the Joint Commissioner, HR and CE, who was the competent authority, could order notice to the alleged encroacher as well as to the trustees. In case, the competent authority failed to follow the mandate under section 78, judicial review under Article 226 was available to aggrieved persons.
The judge said as regards ex-lessees, licencees or mortgagees, the Act did not leave them high and dry. In case they were deprived of the developments made by them in the property, the Act provided for compensation to be determined by a tribunal. So far as title-holders were concerned, the Act provided for approaching the civil court for establishing their title. Since Section 109 was only akin to Section 10 of the Limitation Act, no exception could be taken about the removal of limitation for taking action to restore temple properties.
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