MADRAS HIGH COURT SAFEGUARDS THE RIGHTS TO USE THE FUNDS OF THE HR&CE DEPT TO PROPAGATE BHARAT’S CULTURAL HERITAGE OF UNIVERSAL VALUE
• Dismisses a petition challenging the Tamil Nadu Government’s decision to launch Thirkovil TV, a channel intended to disseminate religious programmes.
1.The TNHindu and Religious Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department announced last year, the launch of Thirukovil TV as an initiative under the State’s Hindu and Religious Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department with an estimated cost of Rs.8.77 crores.
1.1. The channel wanted to showcase important shrines and temple events in Tamil Nadu.
2.1. An Organisation called the “Indic Collective Trust” filed a PIL Collective Trust contending that the December 2020 Government Order issued towards the launch of Thirkovil TV was in violation of the Constitution as well as the provisions of the HR&CE Act, 1959 and connected rules.
3.EXEMPLARY JUDGMENT BY A DIVISION BENCH OF THE MADRAS HC
3.1.A Division Bench of Justices R Mahadevan and Anitha Sumanth, however, disagreed, and proceeded to dismiss the PIL petition, while also observing:
3.2.”The concept of a television channel to disseminate spiritual enquiry, ancient but timeless teachings of seers, and the Sthala Purana of places of worship, is nothing novel and has been undertaken all over the world. We are no exception to this trend and the proposed television channel will, we fondly hope, effectively showcase the significant wealth of philosophy, spiritualism, and culture that India is privy to.
4.In focus before the Court was Section 97 of the HR&CE Act, which deals with the creation of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Common Good Fund (Fund) and the Rules framed under the Administration of Common Good Fund Rules, 1962.
5.The petitioner contended that under these provisions, there was a procedure involved that ought to have been followed before the Thirukovil TV project is launched with the aid of HR&CE funds. This included the publication of a notice and calling for public objections.
6.THE HIGH COURT DISAGREES
6.1.The Court, however, found that this procedure need only be followed when it comes to the renovation and preservation of needy temples and their assets.
6.2. The reason for this being that there are over 44,000 temples in Tamil Nadu being managed by the HR&CE Department, all of which may compete in seeking the use of funds.
6.2.1. The procedure contemplated, therefore, aids the HR&CE commissioner to exercise his discretion between competing requests, the Court opined.
6.3.However, this is not the case when it comes to other purposes contemplated under the HR&CE Act, i.e. propagation and promotion of tenets universal to all religious institutions and the fulfillment of varied religious, scholastic, charitable, and artistic objects set out in Section 66 of the HR&CE Act (appropriation of endowments).
6.4.For these purposes, “the requirements of publication and calling for public objections are not material as it would hardly prejudice one institution at the expense of the other,” the Court reasoned.
7.With this view, the Court dismissed the PIL petition last Thursday.