On Monday, the Madras High Court congratulated the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department for proposing an “excellent” roadmap for the preservation of Tamil Nadu’s heritage temples.

Judges R. Mahadevan and PD Audikesavalu praised HR Commissioner and CE S. Prabhakar, who attended the court proceedings by video appeal, for filing a detailed affidavit on plans for the preservation of ancient temples.

The judges suggested that the 1964 rules for the management and preservation of the property of religious institutions could be amended in accordance with international charters on the conservation of monuments, in order to safeguard heritage temples.

They also asked Rangarajan Narasimhan, a litigator who had filed numerous cases for the protection of temples and their properties, to review 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 resumed by the court in January 2015, during the tenure of Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul (now Supreme Court judge), for the conservation of heritage temples.

He said there were 44,121 religious institutions under the control of the HR&CE department. Of these, 1,966 were dogs and charities. The remaining 42,155 were temples of which 8,450 were built over 100 years ago and therefore belong to the category of ancient temples.

The department had decided to restore the temples in stages, giving priority to structures that were degrading due to natural phenomena. A database was being created for this purpose and, to date, data had been collected on 40,695 temples. Of these temples, 32,935 were found to be in good condition and 6,414 required only minor repairs. However, 530 temples have been identified as partially dilapidated and 716 in severely dilapidated condition, according to the commissioner.

The department had started the process of restoring and renovating all dilapidated temples by listing heritage temples according to UNESCO standards. The services of Vasanthi, a retired deputy superintendent archaeologist, had been used to assess the temples. A team led by her had inspected and assessed over 5,000 ancient temples.

The grading process would help decide on the restoration method. This would be followed by a damage assessment by teams made up of structural engineers, conservation architects and Stapathis who will prepare detailed project reports (DPRs). DPRs will need to be approved by heritage review committees at local, regional and national levels before restoration work begins, when every effort is made to maintain the architectural integrity of ancient temples, the department said.

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