Madras HC -Temples are covered under the RTI Act
Vide a circular No.50838/2008 K-4 dated 27.03.2012, the Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department, Chennai informed that in respect of temples in which hereditary trustees are administering the temple as well as where there are scheme decrees, the trustees of the concerned temple were appointed as Public Information Officers. This became necessary because of the delay that caused in getting information from those temples for an information seeker and that a recommendation was also made by the Tamil Nadu Information Commission.
A writ petition was filed under the Article 226 of the Constitution of India praying for the issue of a writ of Certiorari to call for the records pertaining to the above circular and quash the same.
Arguments made by the petitioner
The contentions made by the petitioner were that:
- As a temple is not an administrative unit or an office of the HR&CE department, it cannot be brought under the definition of Section 2(h) “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any- (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government; of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
- A temple cannot be brought under the purview of the RTI Act and therefore, nominating the hereditary trustee as a Public Information Officer (PIO) under the purview of the Act is unwarranted.
- Reliance was placed upon a judgment of the Kerala High Court in W.P.(C)No.30470 of 2008, dated 11.3.2011 in Bhanunni Vs. Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (Admn.) Department reported in 2011 (2) KLT 312.
Proceedings before the Madras High Court
Earlier, an applicant, Mr. J. Rajendren, sought for certain information from the Joint Commissioner of the HR&CE Board, Chennai under the RTI Act which in turn asked the Trustee to furnish the information. When the said direction was given, the petitioner had filed a writ petition before this court being W.P.No.7767 of 2009. The said writ petition was dismissed. Against the same, the petitioner had preferred a writ appeal being W.A.No.1730 of 2009 which was heard by a division bench of the court. By an order dated 03.12.2009, the division bench had disposed of the writ appeal observing as follows :
"2....All that is happened is that the second respondent sought some information from the first respondent about the appellant and the land owned by the concerned temple. The appellant has submitted that information to the first respondent. Thereafter, this writ petition has been filed by the appellant submitting that the appellant is not bound to give any such information. The first respondent may furnish a reply to the second respondent based on the information submitted by the appellant. There is no need to interfere with the order passed by the learned Single Judge....."
View of the Madras High Court
Disagreeing with the contention of the petitioner, the High Court held that the temple is not a private institution for the purpose of the RTI Act.
- The temple is a public institution. Merely because it is administered by a hereditary trustee, the public character of a temple will not disappear.
- Temples are clearly brought under the HR&CE Act and further, public collections are made for conducting various activities of the temple including rituals.
- The State Government also spends huge amounts every year for administering the department to manage the temples and also releases various grants for renovation of the temples including special grants for conducting Kumbaghishekams periodically.
- When an information is sought for and if the activities of the temple will be kept secret, then it may also result in gradual deterioration of the temple administration. It cannot be contended that the temple activities are private activities and not covered by the provisions of the RTI Act.
- Once it is held that the temple is covered by the provisions of the RTI Act, certainly the unit will have to have a Public Information Officer (PIO). In respect of hereditary temple as well as a unit run by scheme decrees, the information is solely available only with the trustees or the trust board. It is too much for the executive officer to seek an information from those trustees and thereafter pass on the information to an information seeker. Having dual authority will only create bottlenecks in the free flow of the information.
The writ petition was dismissed by the High Court.
This order would bring the accounts of the almighty before the citizens and ensure transparency in the income and expenditure. India is a secular democracy and the constitution provides equal protection to all religions. Hence, an enlightened citizen would extend the scope of the judgment to include all places of worship belonging to all religions.
Citation: Prem Anand, Hereditary Trustee, Sri Vengeeswarar Alagarperumal and Nagathamman Koil Devasthanam, Vadapalani Vs. The Commissioner, H.R.&C.E., Chennai in W.P.No.14692 of 2012 and M.P.Nos.1 and 2 of 2012. [Order dated: 11.06.2012 by Justice K. Chandru of the Madras High Court]
RTI Citation : RTIFI/2012/HC/457
Click here to view original RTI order of Court / Information Commission