The Madras High Court recently issued a directive to the Tamil Nadu Hindu
Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) department to hand over the
administration of the Sengol Mutt to the 103rd head of the mutt. This order
highlight the right exercised by the non-state authority in managing the
religious affairs and holds the state authority accountable for undue
Interpretations of the Act:
The Preamble of the HR & CE Act, 1959 highlights the purpose of the act to amend
or consolidate the law relating to the administration of these institutions
which is expedient to do so. The word 'expedient' refers to being convenient but
immoral. This shows the importance of non-intervention of the state in
administration of the institutions. Section 7 of the said act specifies the
formation of the advisory committee to administer where the state can remove all
the non-official members of the advisory committee only in the name of public
What qualifies as public interest is not substantively said in the act but
taking Article 25(2) of the Constitution which empowers the state to make laws
relating to the religious affairs of the institutions for the welfare of the
public and to make all sections within the Hindu population be inclusive in
taking part in the occasions hosted by the institutions, it can be said that
substantive welfare is the public interest.
Section 10 empowers the commissioner or any other appointed person to carry out
the purposes of the act but requires the commissioner to be a person professing
Hindu religion underlining the dominance of the religious character involved in
administering both religious and secular functions.
No grounds for undue interference:
The court observed that the head of the religious institution has absolute right
over the religious affairs without intervention by the state. The judgment by
the SC in the landmark Shirur Mutt case should be viewed here. The court said
that certain essential religious practices should be viewed as an intrinsic part
of religion and the state cannot interfere on those in the name of secular
functions. The Madras HC highlighted the intervention of the state in secular
functions and the time limitations of those interventions.
In 1960, the HR & CE department formed the advisory committee to manage the
institution citing the alleged concerns of alienation of the temple properties
by the head. Article 26(d) empowers the religious dominations to have control
over the moveable and immovable property of the institutions and the court in
Shirur Mutt case observed that this article protects the mutt by giving the
fundamental right to manage its endowments (properties).
So, this interference by the state authority since 1962 (after the expiry of the
advisory committee) was without jurisdiction and clear violation of the act and
fundamental rights since Section 65 of the said act empowers the commissioner to
appoint a body to assist the administration but does not empower to appoint
manager to manage day to day affairs.
Upholding Article 25, 26 and the SC judgment in The Commissioner, Hindu
Religious Endowments, Madras v. Shirur Mutt. there is no ground for undue
interference of the state in managing the religious institutions.