Two PILs moved recently in the Madras High Court raise grievance over actions for the alleged misuse of temple funds in Tamil Nadu by the State Government, particularly the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR& CE Department).."Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution is denied to the Hindu Temples of Tamil Nadu by constant interference of the HR&CE Department in religious and secular affairs of the temples."Petitioner, Rangarajan Narasimha.A PIL filed by Trichy-based Rangarajan Narasimha has challenged a recent proposal to transfer Rs 10 crores from the surplus funds of 20 rich temples for the thiruppani (renovation) of 1,000 financially unstable temples in the State. .The Tamil Nadu Government passed an order to this effect in May this year, following which the Commissioner of the HR & CE Department issued an order in June directing subordinate officers to effect the transfer of Rs 10 crores from surplus funds to the Commissioner. .In his petition, Narasimha contends that such policy matters of fund transfer can be decided only by the Board of Trustees of the temple and that the Commissioner only has a supervisory role. ."... it is up to the Trustees of any small village temple needing funds to do "Thiruppani", to approach the Board of Trustees of temples with surplus funds (hereinafter Big Temples) with a request for funding the "Thiruppani". In such a case the Board of Trustees of the Big Temples must decide if surplus funds can be appropriated for the requested purposes and resolve accordingly", the petition notes..As such it is argued that the HR & CE Commissioner does not have any power to order such a fund transfer. He further accuses several subordinate officers arraigned in the plea of habitual adherence to such illegal orders. .The fund transfer order is also stated to be in violation of the relevant Rules of the HR & CE Act i.e. the Utilization of Surplus Funds Rules. The petition states that the law has been violated in terms of the use to which such funds can be put, as well as the procedure that should precede the disbursement of such funds. .Narasimha goes on to point out that details of the 1,000 temples proposed to be renovated using these surplus funds are not in the public domain. .As such, he has raised apprehension that there is a "conspiracy to misappropriate funds to the tune of Rs. 10 Cr in the guise of funds required to do Thiruppani to 1000 temples in villages.".This contention has been forwarded while referring to an earlier circular of the HR & CE commissioner passed in April, which had called for the transfer of temple funds to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This circular was withdrawn after it was challenged in the Madras High Court. .The petitioner goes on to highlight that temple funds donated by devotees and pilgrims are not secular, but rather that they were donated for the specific non-secular purpose of the well-being of the temple. .Narasimha adds that "Governments should not interfere with personal faith and religious practices and religious institutions except when there is a violation of basic human rights as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.".In any case, Narasimha points out that even if the funds are intended for the thiruppani of temples, no such renovation work can be carried out amid the COVID-19 pandemc. Hence, "there is no urgency whatsoever to transfer such funds immediately giving a complete go to the procedures mandated by the HR&CE Act and the USF Rules."."There is no urgency to transfer funds from Big Temples, especially when the beneficiary Village Temples are not yet known, meaning the reason for 'renovation' is not yet ascertained. It is only an attempt to drain funds from Big Temples by hoodwinking one and all in the name of 'renovation of village temples.'"the plea reads..In view of these submissions, Narasimha has urged the Court to direct the registration of an FIR as well against the HR & CE Commissioner and subordinate officers put in charge as "Executive Officers" in the 20 temples..The appointment of officials subordinate to the HR & CE commissioner as "Executive Officers" itself has been challenged, with the petitioner highlighting that "fit-persons" have been appointed in this capacity as a stop-gap arrangement till the appointment of the trustees is made. .Stating that this is the state of affairs in most temples, Narasimha further argues, ."This arrangement of having a Subordinate Officer of the 3rd respondent as the 'Fit-Person' of a temple, enables the 3rd respondent (HR & CE Department) to pass such malafide orders as the impugned Commissioner's Order and misappropriate several crores of temple's funds, as the Subordinate Officers simply play second fiddle to the 3rd respondent.".Moreover, the petitioner has also sought an audit into the use of the surplus funds already transferred between 2011-2018 citing the renovation of 5,734 temples. In this regard, the petition states that about Rs 40.98 crores has been transferred, relying on a 2018-2019 Policy Note on the same..When the matter came up for admission last week, the Madras High Court Bench of Justices MM Sundresh and R Hemalatha was told by the Tamil Nadu Government that it has no plans of immediately implementing the proposal under challenge. After directing the Government to file its response, the High Court adjourned the plea. .On Friday, the Bench took up for admission another PIL moved by the Indiv Collective Trust reportedly alleging that temple funds were being misused by the HR & CE officials, including the Portfolio Minister and the Commissioner, for buying cars and refurbishing offices. .While issuing notice in the matter, the Court has directed that this plea be tagged with the PIL filed by Narasimha.