Madras HC: Temples are under the ambit of RTI
On a writ petition filed by a hereditary trustee of the Sri Vengeeswarar Alagarperumal and Nagathamman Koil Devasthanam in Vadapalani questioning the legality of a circular issued by the commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department to appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO) for temples administered by trustees, Justice K Chandru of the Madras high court has ruled a temple is covered under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The petition was filed by Mr. Prem Anand, a hereditary trustee of Vengeeswarar Alagarperumal and Nagathamman Koil Devasthanam, Vadapalani, challenging a circular dated March 27, issued by the Commissioner of the HR &CE Department whereby the hereditary trustees of temples were nominated as Public Information Officers (PIOs).
It was argued by the petitioners that a temple was not an administrative unit of HR&CE department and hence, it could not be brought under the RTI Act. It was further argued that the hereditary trustee could not be nominated as a PIO under the RTI Act.
Justice Chandru said: "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 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 Kumbhabishekam periodically. While that is so, it cannot be said that the temple is a private institution for the purpose of the RTI Act." Justice Chandru added that "Once it is held that the temple is covered by the provisions of the RTI Act, certainly the unit will have to have a PIO. In respect of a hereditary temple as well as a unit run by scheme decrees, the information is available only with the trustees or the trust board.”
This order will bring much respite to the working of the temples of Tamilnadu and is likely to lead to calls for similar measures all over India. The activities of the temple should not be kept secret as such an action will only lead to a gradual deterioration of the temple administration.