The Madras High Court ruled that although the right to dignity continues after death, this does not permit the burial of bodies on temple grounds.
The relief sought in this Public Interest Litigation is to issue a writ of mandamus, directing the respondents to consider the representation of the petitioner and take steps to prevent the corpses from being buried in the land belonging to Arulmigu Subramaniya Swamy Temple; retrieve the said land and permit the public and devotees, who visit the said temple at the festive times, to use the same for the purposes of resting, parking, etc.
Counsel for the petitioner submitted that as per section 110 (f) of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, the respondent authorities are bound to reserve and allot lands for burying and cremating the dead bodies. Hence, they ought to have allotted an alternate land for the people of Subramaniyapuram for burial and consequentially, retrieved the subject land for the usage of public and devotees, who visit the temple during the festive times.
Additional Advocate General appearing for the respondents submitted that the respondent authorities would consider the representation of the petitioner, in the light of the communication sent by the fifth respondent, on merits and in accordance with law, within a time frame to be stipulated by the court.
The division bench of Justice R. Mahadevan and Justice Sathya Narayana Prasad noted that the Arulmigu Subramaniya Swamy Temple, Tiruchendur is an ancient temple and one among six abodes of Lord Murguan. It is situated on the shores of Bay of Bengal. Many Hindu festivals, such as vaikasi visagam, avani festival, skanda sasti festival, Masi festival, Soorasamharam are celebrated auspiciously in a grand manner and during the said days, huge crowds visit the temple for dharshan. In such circumstances, it is obvious that the public and devotees would be put to much hardship in getting through the day, if adequate basic amenities are not available near the temple.
The court said that the right to accord a decent burial or cremation to the dead body of a person should be taken to be part of the right to such human dignity. Further, it is beyond the pale of doubt that the right to be cremated or buried in accordance with one’s religious rituals, rites, practices and beliefs is an essential part of the fundamental right to practice and profess one’s religion in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution.
“At the same time, it cannot be allowed to bury dead bodies in the land belonging to the temple. This court has time and again retierated that the lands belonging to the temples are used only for religious purposes and the activities connected therein; and that the HR & CE Department is the custodian of the temples and its properties, and the authorities should take all effective measures to safeguard the same from encroachment / unauthorized occupation” the court ordered.
The bench further ordered that a duty is cast on the Commissioner under Section 23 of the HR&CE Act, to ensure that the temples and endowments are properly administered and their income is duly appropriated for the purposes for which they were founded or exist; and the Joint Commissioners are clothed with the powers under Sections 78, 79 and 80 to retrieve the temple lands from the encroachers.
It further directed the respondent authorities to consider the representation of the petitioner and pass appropriate orders, on merits and in accordance with law and also in the light of the communication of the Joint Commissioner/Executive Officer of the subject temple, within a period of three months.
Case title: S.P.Narayanan v/s The District Collector
Citation: W.P.(MD) No.8310 of 2018 & W.M.P.(MD)No.7866 of 2018