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HC directs HR&CE department to take serious note of theft of temple jewellery and ancient idols

The Madras High Court on Thursday refused to accept a counter affidavit filed by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department, during the previous All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam regime, in a case related to theft of ancient idols and temple jewellery. It directed the department to reconsider its stand since there has been a change in government.

Passing interim orders on a public interest litigation petition filed by temple activist R. Venkataraman, the first Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy had on January 20 taken serious note of petitioner’s complaint that temple jewellery and other ancient artefacts had been wrongfully removed or pilfered from temples situated at various places across the State.

The court had directed the HR&CE department to immediately coordinate with the Director General of Police (DGP) for ascertaining the places from where the jewellery could be missing. The department as well as the DGP were also directed to file affidavits indicating a roadmap to recover the stolen jewellery and the steps planned to be taken to prevent such thefts of artefacts in the future.

When the matter was heard on Thursday, the petitioner informed the court of the counter affidavit filed by HR&CE department in February. After perusing the report, the judges wrote: “A counter-affidavit has been filed and it does not appear that such counter-affidavit can be taken too seriously. It cannot be the State’s stand that idols or jewellery have not gone missing or that adequate or appropriate steps have been taken to recover the same.”

The interim order went on to read: “The petitioner complains that the Master Register (regarding movable and immovable properties of temples) has gone missing from the HR & CE department. The State should re-consider the stand indicated in the counter-affidavit, particularly since there has been a change of Government here. The State should also look into the petitioner’s allegation that case diaries in some cases have gone missing and investigations may have been stopped midway for extraneous considerations.”

After directing the High Court Registry to forward a copy of their interim order to Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram so that the issue could be looked into at the highest level, the judges called for a status report after three weeks. The court also observed that it would be open to the HR&CE department to invite the writ petitioner for a discussion since he appeared to have sufficient material to indicate particulars of idols and nature of jewellery that had gone missing.

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