DMK Tries to Swallow Temple Lands- People Oppose Hospital in Semmencherry

CHENNAI: Residents of Semmencherry, a village panchayat located 18 km south of Chennai, and devotees of the famous Sri Srinivasa temple along the OMR have opposed the state government’s bid to take over 10 acres of the temple land for construction of a hospital.

On Monday, a group of residents, devotees, village elders and elected representatives including panchayat president V Dhanasekaran highlighted their opposition to the officials of THE Hindu religious & charitable endowments (HR&CE) department which organised a public hearing on the matter. “For centuries, the temple land has been safeguarded from encroachments and land sharks by the villagers. Now, under the name of development, the government is trying to take away the land,” said Dhanasekaran, a DMK leader.

Last month, the HR&CE department had forwarded a proposal to the cabinet to give temple lands in Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Chennai to corporates and trusts on long lease against its own order passed two years ago (GO MS No 25 of January 29, 2008) prohibiting temple lands from being sold or given on long lease.

The HR&CE department placed the file before the state cabinet that met on January 28 this year to grant 10 acres in Semmenchery village in Sholinganallurm taluk to Agada Health Sciences on lease for 29 years and 11 months to set up a multi-speciality hospital.

The department has obtained the views of the revenue, health and finance departments before placing it before the cabinet. In the proposal, the department has said the land belonging to Arulmigu Sreenivasa Temple is far away from the temple, which is short of cash to build and rent out commercial complexes. As the department found it difficult to protect the land, the HR&CE commissioner suggested that the land be given on long lease, fixing the rent on the basis of market & guideline values, which worked out to Rs 29.53 lakh per month. It had the provision for upward revision of rent by 15% every three years. The leased land can only be used for the purpose of health, research, education and should treat a particular percentage of patients free of cost.

“Though the file is yet to be cleared by the cabinet, the entire process of granting it to the trust is almost complete. Once the proposal gets the nod, which is expected soon, we would execute it immediately,” insiders in the department told TOI.

However, residents and devotees fear that setting up of a big hospital would not only result in loss of space for the temple to conduct rituals, poojas and festivals, it would also endanger the fragile structure of the 3rd century temple. “A notified heritage structure by the Archaeological Survey of India, the temple is being maintained by villagers and devotees at a cost of around Rs 25,000 every month. All these years, the HR&CE department had not bothered about it,” said 69-year-old T Gnanasekaran, a Semmencherry resident.

One of the oldest temples along the 45km stretch between Madhya Kailash and Mamallapuram, the Pallava era temple was renovated on February, 2009, for the first time since 1957. The ASI was also roped in to provide expert guidance. Acrylic paintings done several years ago on the pillars were painstakingly removed with ASI help to retain the temple’s originality. “Once the hospital comes up, shops and other commercial establishments would crop up around it and the peaceful environment of the temple will be lost,” said V Narayanan, a local AIADMK leader and a resident of Semmencherry.

madhavan.d@timesgroup.com

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