CHENNAI: Opposing the petitioner Shri Rangarajan Narasimhan's prayer for appointment of retired IPS/IAS officers, retired Judges and persons of high integrity in the District Committee for each district to monitor the opening of hundials (collection boxes) of Hindu temples, the Commissioner has told the Madras High Court that in light of the existing precautions taken during the hundial opening process, “there is no need to appoint" such persons as prayed for by the petitioner.
The Court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking, amongst other things, the monitoring of the opening of hundials of Tamil Nadu temples - controlled by the state government under Tamil Nadu's Human Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, (TN HRCE Act).
The state-appointed HRCE Commissioner also informed the Madras High Court that vide a circular issued in 2022 itself, 48 'Senior Grade' temples were directed to live telecast their hundial opening through their respective YouTube channels.
Tamil Nadu government currently controls about 46,105 Hindu & Jain temples, for which the Commissioner said that the "public (is) allowed to participate" in the hundial opening process.
On where the keys of the Hindu temples' sealed hundials are kept, the Commissioner enumerates different scenarios in his affidavit - of temples where Hereditary Trustees are present and where they are not present.
However, in all scenarios, atleast 1 set of temple's hundial keys are kept with state-appointed officers.
While the Commissioner assured the Court that a temple's hundial opening & counting is carried out in the presence of the hereditary trustee/ Chairman (appointed by the State/ officers of the State), Board of Trustees/Trustees (also state-appointed if non-hereditary)/ Executive Officer/ Deputed Officer/'Fit Person' (as appointed by the Govt/its officers), the Inspector and the public.
The ex-officio Chairman for the purposes of the Tamil Nadu HRCE Act, 1959 is the Chief Minister of the state (who may or may not be Hindu).
Speaking about foreign currency, gold and silver donations to Hindu temples, the Commissioner said that they are entered in the 'Hundial Assortment Register' and kept in the 'Double Lock room' of the concerned temple.
“If the hundial are not opened periodically, then it may leads (lead) to loss of income for the concerned temple, the rupees note inside the hundial shall be damaged and the coins will become rusty. Hence the hundial should be opened periodically,” the Commissioner reasoned in his counter-affidavit.
Loopholes in the law for administering a Hindu temple's funds
It is pertinent to note that the Act is silent on whether the Deputed Officer or ‘Fit Person’ or the Inspector who play a role in different parts of a temple's fund administration and collection process, are even required to be Hindu by religion.
Further, except the Hereditary Trustee (who may or may not be present in view of being alive or not) all the other persons involved in a Hindu temple's hundial opening and counting process are officials appointed directly or indirectly by the Tamil Nadu Goverment under the existing law.
Moreover, although the HRCE Act of Tamil Nadu provides that the Commissioners under the Act, the Trustees and Executive Officer must be 'Hindus', the power to make rules for "the manner of proof of the fact that a person professes Hindu religion" also lies with the state Government.