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An attempt to appropriate 1.27 acres of land belonging to Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple has come to light in Madurai. The patta for the prime property on Seventy Feet Road here, barely two km away from Periyar bus stand, was transferred to three individuals by the District Revenue Officer, allegedly in violation of rules, earlier this year.

According to highly placed sources, K. Veluchamy, the DRO, cancelled the patta transfer and restored the records back to temple on October 7, 2016 after the issue came to the notice of temple authorities and a discreet enquiry was reportedly initiated by Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption.

This is the second such attempt that has come to light in a span of two months. In an incident in August, 1.8 acres of land belonging to the temple, also located in a prime location, was transferred to few individuals by the then Madurai North Tahsildar M.K. Anbazhagan. Later, it was transferred back to temple and the Tahsildar was suspended.

In the recent case, sources said that, although the family of the individuals, who had applied for the patta transfer, had made attempts to secure the property since 1960s, their claims were rejected by the courts.

Meanwhile, citing various documents in their support, they applied to the DRO in December 2015 to transfer the patta in their names. The DRO, after scrutinizing the claim, had ordered the transfer on January 18, 2016.

When contacted, Mr. Veluchamy acknowledged that the transfer was a mistake and attributed it to a possible oversight. He said that the documents submitted made no reference to the land belonging to Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.

“Moreover, the case became even more complicated with Tamil Nadu Housing Board acquiring the property in the 1980s for a project, which was subsequently quashed,” he said.

“Though only 1.27 acres was transferred by mistake, I have now restored 1.72 acres land to the temple, which includes an adjoining portion appropriated by another person earlier,” he said.

However, sources at the department and retired revenue officials alleged glaring violation of procedures. An official, retired from a senior position in the department, said that, in this case, the DRO was not the authority to transfer the patta in the first place.

“Such requests should have gone to Tahsildar and Revenue Divisional Officer. It cannot be directly done by DRO as it has happened now,” he said.

“Moreover, a thorough enquiry should have been done before the transfer, particularly considering the fact that the property is in a prime location worth tens of crores of rupees,” he said.

Collector K. Veera Raghava Rao told The Hindu said that as soon as the incident was brought to his knowledge, he had initiated an enquiry. “Meanwhile, the DRO took suo motu action and conducted an enquiry to revert the land back to the temple,” he said.

Mr. Rao said that he had also asked the temple authorities to carry out an exercise along with the revenue department to review the records of all the lands belonging to the temple.