Madras HC orders the formation of a Heritage Commission to protect historical/ancient sites and idols

On Monday, the Madras High Court ordered the Tamil Nadu government and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to form a 17 member Heritage Commission to identify all monuments, structures, temples, and antiques of historical and archaeological importance within Tamil Nadu and to maintain, supervise and restore the same.

Towards the end, the Bench comprising Hon’ble Justice R Mahadevan and Hon’ble Justice PD Audikesavaulu issued 75 directions to protect these idols, monuments, temples and sculptures of historical value.

No structural repair or alteration of any idols, monuments, temples and sculptures that are notified under Central Law or the Tamil Nadu Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act shall occur without the permission of the Heritage Commission.

The Bench also ordered the formation of a Special Tribunal to exclusively deal with cases related to religious institutions that come under the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Act. Cases such as disputes on culture, religious affairs, heritage and tradition will come under this.

Significantly, the Bench ordered that District Level Committees take stock of all idols in temples that fall within the definition of Antiques or Ancient Monuments and prepare a list of such monuments, take their photographs, and digitise/computerise the same.

The judgement further reads that HR&CE Department should ensure that all temples have strong rooms secured by the latest technology and round the clock surveillance with alarms. All existing ICON centres should be brought under video surveillance.

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The instant case was initiated based on a newspaper report published in English daily, The Hindu, titled Silent Burial, related to the government’s inaction in forming a statutory authority to protect heritage sites.

Hon’ble Court directed Tamil Nadu and the ASI to establish the Mamallapuram World Heritage Area Management Authority to safeguard and manage all monuments in Mamallapuram. Mamallapuram is a UNESCO world heritage site and is famous for its temples and mandapas.

Other directions:-

  • The Court stated that funds of a temple would first be used to maintain, conduct festivals, and pay staff. If there is any surplus, then it will be used to maintain other temples in the State.
  • An independent audit wing will audit religious institutions periodically as required u/s 87 of the HR & CE Act, and the HR&CE department will ensure compliance with this direction.

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