DMK government recovers encroached temple land worth Rs 1,000 cr in 4 months, others to follow

Tamil Nadu’s DMK government has reclaimed encroaching temple land worth Rs 1,000 crore in the past four months. And more such land will be reclaimed in the coming days, as the issue has remained one of the areas of government focus since taking office in May this year.

Disclosing this, Hindu Minister of Religious and Charitable Endowments, PK Sekar Babu, whose department has campaigned to mark and reclaim these temple lands across the state, told the Indian Express on Wednesday: “Even today” hui, we have completed the procedures to recover a first property worth over Rs 300 crore in the city of Chennai.

The latest salvage was land belonging to the Kancheepuram Ekambareswarar temple, spread over 49 lots on Chennai’s Poonamallee highway. A committee of experts would examine the possibility of using certain existing structures in the field. The department also requested arrears of Rs 12 crore from the encroachers.

Along with the land reclamation mission, Babu said his officers were also busy with another project to digitize temple ownership records and assets across the state. The plan is to keep the details of the temple’s land ownership in the public domain.

Tamil Nadu has about 44,000 temples, which are covered by the GIS digitization and mapping project.

The special interest of the DMK government in reclaiming temple lands is also of political importance as there has been a campaign supported by Hindustva groups after the Sabarimala issue in Kerala, and more recently by Sadhguru Jagadish Vasudev, to liberate the temples of government control on the basis of alleged neglect and embezzlement.

A major controversy that erupted after DMK’s election victory also concerned the temple issue – after state finance minister P Thiaga Rajan called Vasudev a “commercial operator” and “publicity dog”. “. The minister was responding to Vasudev’s request to free the temples from government control and hand them over to the faithful. The ongoing government mission has helped DMK silence Hindutva groups and gain appreciation from BJP leaders.

Top BJP leader H Raja, who is a staunch critic of Dravidian politics, thanked the government when it reclaimed 9.58 acres of land belonging to the Sri Gowri Vinayagar temple in Sivaganga.

Although this was a sounding pledge from the DMK to reclaim the temple grounds, the success of the ongoing mission came with a few nudges from the Madras HC.

In one of many interventions it has made, the High Court questioned the government in June about the fate of 47,000 acres of temple land that has disappeared from the records. The court was referring to the difference between two accounts – 5.25 lakh acres recorded in 1984-85 and 4.78 lakh acres recorded in 2019-20.

When hearing petitions about encroachments on temple land a week ago, the court said the government should issue a public notice demanding that invaders voluntarily abandon the land within a specified time frame and that those who do not not obeying the order should be detained under Goondas law.