Preservation rules can be amended in tune with international charters: court

The Madras High Court on Monday commended the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department for coming up with an “excellent” roadmap for preserving heritage temples in Tamil Nadu.

Justices R. Mahadevan and P.D. Audikesavalu appreciated HR&CE Commissioner S. Prabhakar, who attended the court proceedings through video call, for filing an elaborate affidavit on the plans to preserve ancient temples.

The judges suggested that the Management and Preservation of Properties of Religious Institutions Rules of 1964 could be amended in tune with international charters on conservation of monuments, to safeguard heritage temples.

They also asked Rangarajan Narasimhan, a litigant who had filed numerous cases for protecting temples and their properties, to go through the Commissioner’s affidavit and submit his suggestions and ideas by January 25.

The affidavit was filed in response to a suo motu public interest litigation petition taken up by the court in January 2015, during the tenure of Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul (now a Supreme Court judge), for conservation of heritage temples.

It stated that there were 44,121 religious institutions under the control of HR&CE department. Of them, 1,966 were mutts and charities. The remaining 42,155 were temples of which 8,450 were built over 100 years ago and hence fall under the category of ancient temples.

The department had decided to restore the temples in a phased manner giving priority to structures that were degrading due to natural phenomenon. A database was being created for the purpose and so far data had been collected with respect to 40,695 temples. Of those temples, 32,935 were found to be in good condition and 6,414 required only minor repair works. However, 530 temples were identified to be partially dilapidated and 716 were in severely dilapidated condition, according to the Commissioner.

The department had begun the process of restoring and renovating all the dilapidated temples by indexing the heritage temples as per UNESCO norms. The services of Vasanthi, a retired Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, had been availed to grade the temples. A team led by her had inspected and graded over 5,000 ancient temples.

The grading process would help in deciding the method of restoration. It would be followed by assessment of damage by teams comprising structural engineers, conservation architects and Stapathis who shall prepare detailed project reports (DPRs). The DPRs will have to be approved by the heritage screening committees at the local, regional and State-level before commencing restoration work, when every effort would be made to maintain architectural integrity of ancient temples, the department assured the court.

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