RELIGIOUS DEITY ALSO A LEGAL PERSON
The trend of building small temples on the pathway, under a tree, or any other public place has become a very common sight be it a vinayagar or amman or any other deity temple. Taking note frequent instances where land encroachment is committed by or on behalf of religious institutions, the Madras High Court has called on the State to take appropriate measures to counter the same.
In an order passed on Friday, 4th January 2019, Justice S M Subramaniam emphasised,
“An encroachment is an encroachment. Encroachment can never be approved or allowed. Even deity as a legal person, cannot commit an act of encroachment. If a deity in temple commits an act of encroachment that is also be dealt with, in accordance with law and because it is a deity the Rule of Law cannot be diluted…All concerned are bound to follow the rule of law and respect the law for an orderly society and to respect the sentiments of their neighbours and all other citizens”.
The Judge was prompted to make the observation in a case involving a plea to remove an unauthorized construction in the name of a Vinayagar Temple in Coimbatore. The plea led the court to take up the broader issue of land encroachment by religious institutions in general as well. As noted in the order,
“This Court is of an opinion that (a) large number of temples on the public roads, Government Poramboke areas, water bodies and water resources are being constructed by few land mafias and few greedy men for their personal gains and for unlawful enrichments.
Such Temples are being constructed by these men either to grab the land or for personal unlawful enrichment. The growing trend across the country is that, on public roads by causing inconvenience to the vehicular traffic and passer-by, few men are constructing Temples and thereafter, causing greater nuisance to the vehicular traffic and for the movement of the people in the locality.
Such Temples in Road sides are constructed without obtaining proper permission from the competent authorities, such Temples are constructed by way of an encroachment. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department cannot encourage such attitude of the people in respect of construction of Temple by encroaching the public lands and the public roads. It amounts to abuse of sentiments and emotions of the people with reference to their religious faiths and sentiments”.
The Court went on to emphasise,
“Under these circumstances, the Temples, Churches, Mosques or any other Religious institutions, if constructed by encroaching the public roads causing inconvenience to the vehicular traffic or if any constructed in water resources and water bodies, depriving the citizen to get the water resources, then all are to be dealt in accordance with law as stated earlier by this court.
Deity being a legal person cannot be allowed to encroach the public land with the help of few land mafias or some land grabbers”.
Concerned authorities of the State’s Home Department, Municipal Administration Department, Highways Department and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department have been suo moto impleaded by the Court in the matter. The Court has directed that relevant statistics concerning the encroachment of public land by religious institutions be filed so that it may take appropriate action.
In furtherance this matter has been posted for January 21st for the compliance as asked by the Court to take further actions on encroachment, where people are taking advantage of religious sentiments to build small worship sites on the public pathways, roads, water ways, creating absolute nuisance for others, for the sole purpose of enrichment of oneself. These temples are also being built on one’s whims and fancy to appease their immense greed, not seeking prior permission from the concerned State authorities or HR & CE. It’s alright to be religious and uphold such sentiments, but not at the cost of blocking the pathways, roads, water resources causing absolute inconvenience to the public.
VIJAYASHREE RAMESH, CHENNAI BASED ADVOCATE.