Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: The appeal was filed by appellant 1, aged 31-year-old claiming to be the next friend of Lord Hanuman (appellant 2) in response to a legal dispute initiated by respondent 5 seeking to regain possession of property on which a temple was constructed claiming rights over the temple, arguing that it should be considered a public temple due to the nature of public worshiping . C. Hari Shankar, J., dismissed the appeal and held that the temple in question did not qualify as a public temple based on the lack of evidence provided by the appellants.

The legal dispute revolves around the ownership and status of a temple on private land. The land, currently owned by Respondent 5 houses the temple in question, which was allegedly constructed in 1997. The temple became a subject of contention when Appellant 1 along with others, asserted rights over the temple, claiming it to be a public temple. The dispute arose after the rightful owner of the property, sought to regain possession of the land, leading to legal proceedings initiated by the appellants. While the appellants argued that the temple had acquired public character over time, allowing worship by the public, the respondent contended that it remained a private temple situated on private land. The appellants’ assertion of public worship at the temple served as the basis for their claim of public ownership and right to worship.

The submissions made by both parties centered around the key issue of whether the temple should be considered a public or private entity. Counsel for the appellants argued that the mere fact of public worship at the temple indicated its public character. They contended that members of the public had been worshipping at the temple, implying a right to worship. Conversely, the respondent’s counsel argued that the temple remained private property owned by Suraj Malik, with no evidence suggesting its transformation into a public temple.

The Court meticulously analyzed the submissions and evidence presented by both parties to determine the temple’s nature. It emphasized that the key criterion for distinguishing between private and public temples lies in the purpose for which the temple was constructed and dedicated to the deity. Mere public worship at a private temple does not automatically confer public status, nor does it imply ownership of the land by the deity. The Court observed that the burden of proving the temple’s public character rested with the appellants. It noted the absence of evidence supporting the claim of the temple’s transformation into a public entity over time. The Court also criticized the abuse of legal proceedings by the appellants, highlighting the financial burden placed on the rightful owner to regain possession of the property.

The Court remarked that “There is no averment that the worship was as a matter of right. Mere worship, by the public, at the private temple, does not convert it into a public temple. The averments in the objection petition, therefore, do not even make out a prima facie case of the disputed temple, in the present case, being a public temple.”

The Court further remarked that “The Court is constrained to observe that the manner in which the process of the law has been abused by the appellants is an affront, not only to the law, but to the Court and its entire process. There can be no scope of leniency in such a case. The plaintiff had to cough up a huge amount to Santosh Sharma and her children in order to obtain a decree directing them to surrender possession of the suit property.”

Thus, the Court dismissed the appeal, affirming that the temple remained a private entity situated on private land. It imposed costs amounting to ₹1 lakh on Appellant 1 for abusing the legal process. The court held that the appellants failed to establish a prima facie case for the temple’s public status, thereby upholding the rights of the rightful owner to regain possession of the property.

[Ankit Mishra v. Santosh Sharma, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 3342, decided on 06-05-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Abhishek Grover, Advocate for petitioner

Mr. Sarojanand Jha, Ms. Rajreeta Ghosh, & Mr. Rahul Kumar, Advsocates for R5

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