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The Madras High Court Bench here on Wednesday disapproved of the Palani Dhandayuthapaniswamy temple management’s practice of allowing barbers over 60 years of age to tonsure devotees.

Observing that the hands of persons above 60 years of age “would generally shiver due to old age” and “they might injure devotees at the time of tonsuring”, a Division Bench of Justices A. Selvam and P. Kalaiyarasan quashed an order passed by the Executive Officer (EO) of the temple on December 3.

The Joint Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department, also the EO of the temple, had granted temporary licence to tonsure devotees for a period of three months to barbers between 60 and 65 years of age to address the needs of the throngs of devotees visiting the temple during the Thai Poosam festival season.

Finding justification in a writ petition filed by K. Kuppuraj (67), a former licensed barber of the temple, challenging the permission granted by the EO in December last year, Mr. Justice Selvam wondered: “What would happen if a 65-year-old barber with failing health ends up cutting the ear of a devotee?”

‘Only for a short period’

To this, the counsel for the temple K. Govindarajan said that the license was granted only for a short period of three months in view of the Thai Poosam festival, which was over. He contended that nothing survived in the writ petition at present and hence there was no necessity to quash the EO’s order.

However, stating that temple officials should not engage barbers above 60 years of age in future, in view of the nature of work to be performed by them, the judges allowed the writ petition and quashed the order.

In his affidavit, the writ petitioner claimed that, as of now, 310 barbers had been issued licences, one of the conditions in which was that they should cease to work on attaining the age of 60. Though many requests were made by the barbers since 1989 to increase the age limit, the authorities had refused to relent.

However, surprisingly, acting on a representation made by a section of barbers last year, the incumbent EO permitted those above 60 to receive licenses, citing the huge number of devotees during the Thai Poosam festival as the reason for his decision.

“The second respondent (the EO) does not have any power to pass such an order independently because the first respondent (the HR & CE Commissioner) is the competent authority” the petitioner claimed.