Bombay High Court: In a petition filed by the petitioner Uttamrao Rambhaji Shelke seeking quashing and setting aside of the impugned order dated 16-09-2021 passed by the Principal Secretary, Law and Judiciary Department, Mantralaya, Mumbai appointing the respondent 3 to 14 as Members of Managing Committee of Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust, Shirdi Taluka Rahata, District Ahmednagar, a Division Bench of R D Dhanuka and S G Mehare, JJ. held that the State Government has committed vast illegalities in appointing these trustees by disregarding the principles laid down by this Court in a series of judgments. It further stated that various resolutions passed by the State Government appointing the persons as trustees on the said Sansthan Trust are in violation of the principles laid down by this Court and in breach of the provisions of Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust (Shirdi) Act, 2004.
The Court remarked that “if the State Government would have appointed independent trustees and not the politicians who are having close connection with the ruling party, the said Sansthan Trust which is a public Trust and is a custodian of public money and properties would have saved huge amount of public money spent on unnecessary litigations.”
The Court noted that the record indicates the idol of Shri Sai Baba was set up at Shirdi in 1954 and a scheme was framed in 1984 by Bombay High Court. The State Government enacted Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust (Shirdi) Act, 2004. The Principal Secretary and Senior Legal Advisor to the Government appointed 16 members comprising of various professionals, various devotees of Shree Sai Baba and various other uncontroversial persons.
However, since last 3 terms, the State Government started appointing politicians to most of these posts without considering the scheme of the Trust and contrary to the provisions of the said Act which also formed the subject matter of the Public Interest Litigations.
The Court noted that none of these appointments were made in compliance with the directions issued and the principles laid down in various judgments which were supposed to be complied with.
The Court observed that the said Sansthan Trust is set up with the purpose of public cause having the properties worth crores of rupees owned by the said Trust. When power is vested with the authority, it must exercise the same for the public good and it is expected that the State Government to at least keep the God away while distributing public largesses. Thus, there is no propriety in appointing the persons as trustees, against whom criminal cases are pending in a non-transparent manner
The Court further noted that the appointment of the trustees to such public trust has to satisfy the test of public interest by keeping the purpose and intent of creating such trust under the said Act for the betterment of and in the interest of large members of public devotees of Shri Sai Baba and not the private interest of the ruling Government to accommodate their party workers or politicians. The entire purpose and intent of creating such trust by the State Government under the scheme sanctioned by the Court is thus ex-facie defeated for the political gains of the party in Power.
Thus, the Court quashed and set aside the impugned order dated 16-09-2021 passed by the Principal Secretary, Law and Judiciary Department, Mantralaya, Mumbai appointing the respondent 3 to 14 as Members of Managing Committee of Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust, Shirdi Taluka Rahata, District Ahmednagar.
The Court further directed State Government to constitute a new “the Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Management Committee” within a period of eight weeks in accordance with the provisions of section 5 of 2004 Act, and in line with the principles laid down by the Courts in the judgments and until the State Government such new Committee is constituted, the affairs of the “Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust, Shirdi” shall be supervised, monitored and looked after by a committee consisting of (A) The Principal District Judge, Ahmednagar, (B) The Collector, Ahmednagar (C) The Chief Executive Officer of Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust Shirdi, subject to no major financial decision to be taken without permission of the Court.
[Uttamrao Rambhaji Shelke v. State of Maharashtra, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 2280, decided on 13-09-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. R.S. Deshmukh, Senior Counsel i/by D.R. Deshmukh for the petitioner;
Mr. R.N. Dhorde, Special Counsel a/w Mr.D.R. Kale, Government Pleader for the respondent no.1;
Mr. A.S. Bajaj for respondent 3;
Mr. P.R. Katneshwarkar h/f Mr.S.N. Gaikwad for respondent 4;
Mr. N.L. Jadhav for respondent 5;
Mr. A.C. Darandale for respondent 6;
Mr. Mazhar A. Jahagirdar for respondent 8;
Mr. R.A. Tambe for respondent 9.
*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.