[Kalkaji Mandir Jagran Accident] ‘No jagran shall be held in Mandir’; Delhi High Court lays down safety directives

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: Multiple applications were filed in response to an unfortunate incident that occurred during a Jagran event at Kalkaji Mandir that resulted in injuries and loss of life due to the collapse of a platform, prompting legal action to investigate the circumstances leading to the tragedy and address concerns regarding the management and safety of the Mandir premises. The case was filed to seek accountability, ensure proper governance, and implement measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, ultimately aiming to safeguard the welfare of devotees and visitors to Kalkaji Mandir. Prathiba M Singh, J., held that the exclusive control over the Kalkaji Mandir premises cannot be exercised by any individual or entity other than the appointed Administrator and without the Administrator’s permission, no program or event, including Jagrans or similar religious programs, would be permitted to take place within the Kalkaji Mandir premises. The Court further endorsed the recommendation for enhanced security measures and outlined steps for the redevelopment of the Mandir premises, including demarcation, approval of plans, engagement of contractors, and allocation of office space for the Administrator’s activities related to redevelopment.

The Kalkaji Mandir, a significant religious site in Delhi, has recently been the subject of legal proceedings following an unfortunate incident during a Jagran event on January 27th and 28th, 2024. The event was organized by Mr. Anuj Mittal and Mr. Satish Kumar, members of ‘Shree Kalkaji Sajja Sevadar Mitr Mandal (Regd.)’. Despite seeking permission, the event was held without authorization from the appointed Administrator, as per the court’s orders. The Mahant, acknowledging his lack of authority in administrative matters, handed over control to the Administrator after a court order in September 2021. Issues regarding crowd management, unauthorized societies operating within the Mandir premises, and the presence of street vendors have also come to light.

Various reports and submissions made showed that several societies which are registered claim to be operating from the Kalkaji Mandir premises, which is wholly impermissible. These Societies which claim to be registered with the name of the Shri Kalkaji Mandir cannot be allowed to function in this manner for holding programs in the precincts of the Mandir, without the permission of the Administrator, once the order dated 27-09-2021 was passed by the Court. The entire management, control and administration of Shri Kalkaji Mandir must be only under the supervision of the Administrator and not of any other person, society or entity.

Various stakeholders, including the Mahant, the Administrator, and law enforcement, have made submissions regarding the incident and ongoing management concerns at Kalkaji Mandir. The Administrator highlighted deficiencies in crowd management and recommended enhanced security measures. The Mahant emphasized his lack of administrative authority and expressed regret over the incident. Additionally, concerns were raised about unauthorized societies operating within the Mandir premises and the presence of street vendors, prompting calls for regulatory action.

An affidavit filed by the Mahant, pursuant to a court order dated 12-02-2024, clarified that the Mahant’s position is that he is not authorized to make administrative decisions or to give any permission to organizers to hold any program on the premises. The premises of the Kalkaji Mandir are for use by the public and no individual or entity can exercise exclusive control on any part of the said premises. The Administrator, having been appointed and given full management and control, any event that must be organized would require permission. Without the same, no program shall be organized within the Mandir precincts. No Jagran shall be held, or any other similar events would be permitted in the Kalkaji Mandir. If any organization wishes to hold any Jagran or similar religious program, such organization may approach the Court to seek permission by way of an application.

The delineation of authority between the Mahant and the Administrator underscored the need for clear administrative frameworks in religious institutions. The incident has shed light on the challenges of crowd management and the importance of robust security measures to ensure the safety of devotees. Furthermore, the presence of unauthorized societies and street vendors highlighted broader governance issues that require attention.

The court held that exclusive control over the Mandir premises cannot be exercised by any individual or entity. The Administrator was affirmed as the sole authority for granting permissions for events within the Mandir precincts. Enhanced security measures and the formation of a volunteer force under the Shri Kalkaji Mandir Prabandhak Sudhar Committee (‘SKMPSC’) was endorsed for effective crowd management.

On the aspect of the issue of street vendors, the court directed Mr. Aditya Kumar to conduct a proper survey of the area and place a comprehensive report as to the total number of vendors who are operating around the entire Kalkaji Mandir premises and on what basis, along with the photographs, and SHO to file a status report in this regard. As far as the appointment of the Oversight Committee is concerned, the court directed to place on record a complete chart of all the Baridaars and the group to which they belong be compiled by the Administrator’s office, after which the constitution of the Oversight Committee shall be considered.

Insofar as the removal of chabutras, removal of malba and levelling of premises is concerned, the court directed Administrator to take a quick decision within a week in this regard and finalise a Contractor for commencement of the said removal work. Insofar as the rehabilitation of the jhuggi dwellers was concerned, the court remarked that whatever communication was already communicated to the said persons is the final stand of the DDA and there is no change in this regard. If the jhuggi dwellers wish to purchase the flats that are available for the Economically Weaker Section (‘EWS’) category they are free to do so.

[Neeta Bhardwaj v. Kamlesh Sharma, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 1184, decided on 20-02-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Arun Birbal & Mr. Sanjay Singh, Advocates for DDA. R. K. Bhardwaj & Dheeraj Bhardwaj, Advs. Ms Sonia Singhani and Ms Vidhi Gupta, Advs. for DDA. Mr. Neeraj Bhardwaj & Mr. Rahul Bhardwaj, Advs. Mr. Lokesh Bhardwaj, Advocate. Mr. Akarshan Bhardwaj, Advocate. Ms. Samapika Biswal, Ms. Nidhisha Garg and Mr. Aman Kumar Yadav, Advocates. Mr Anuj Chaturvedi & Mrs Shreya Manjari Advs. Mr. Goonmeet Singh Chauhan, Architect. Mr. Rishabh Kapur, Adv. Mr. Kush Bhardwaj, Adv. Dr. P. N. Mishra and Mr. Anjani Kumar Mishra, Advs. Mr. Tanay Hari Lal, Advocate. Ms. Himanshi Kaushik, Architect. Mr. Sarvesh Bhardwaj, Advocate. Mr. Lakshay Bhardwaj, Mr. Kamal Kumar, Mr. Aashish Bhardwaj & Mr. Satish Pandey, Advocates. Mr. Ramesh Kumar Mishra, Adv. Mr. Kaoliangpou Kamei & Mr. Paul Kumar Kalai, Advs. Mr. Siddharth Panda and Mr. Venkateshan, Advocates for MCD. Mr. Vishal Bhardwaj, Advocate Mr. Rishabh Kapur, Adv.

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