Case BriefsHigh Courts

Andhra Pradesh High Court: Opining that, a Math, which is a separate institution rendering certain religious and other functions pertaining to a particular denomination is different from a temple which is open to all for worship, D.V.S.S. Somayajulu, J., held that,

Minimum Wages Act, 1948 will not be applicable to the Math.

Instant petition was filed by the petitioner – Math to seek reliefs.

Senior Counsel, C.R. Sridharan, for the petitioner submitted that petition was a Math which is a specific religious denomination.

He added that the petition was filed because the respondent was attempting to interfere with the activities of the Math and directing the petitioner to pay minimum wages, etc. to the persons employed in the Math.

Respondent’s action was challenged.

Senior Counsel added that respondent-State does not have the right to interfere with the Management of the math and issue the directions contained in the impugned memos.

Petitioner’s counsel submitted that there is a fundamental distinction between a Math and a temple although both can be called a religious institution.

Government Pleader argued that coming to the issue of wages, the respondents are not insisting upon the payment of the wages, more so, under the Minimum Wages Act, but are essentially trying to ensure that the equal pay for equal work principle as enunciated in the case of State of Punjab v. Jagjit Singh, (2017) 1 SCC 148, is actually followed.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court noticed that it is a fact that a “Math” is distinct from a “Temple”.

Temple and Math are both religious institutions, but the purposes for which they are established and the manner in which they function are clearly specified in Section 2(17) of  A.P. Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions & Endowments Act, 1987 Act.

 As per the above-stated Sections, Math is an institution headed by a person whose primary job is to engage himself in teaching, propagation of religious philosophy etc., and impart religious training etc.

On the other hand, Temple is a place, which is dedicated to and keep used as a place of public religious worship.

Hence in view of the above distinction between the two institutions is clear.

Under Section 6 of the Act also, the income or the change in income of the Math cannot lead to a change in the classification of the Math. It is only possible for the institutions and endowments under Section 6(a), 6(b) and 6 (c) of the Act, which are included in this section. If their income exceeds or falls below the stipulated limit, for the three years, their position can be changed, but this is clearly not applicable to a Math.

Whether Commissioner’s power extends to giving the direction to pay Minimum Wage of the Minimum Time Scale?

In Court’s opinion, the general power of superintendence given to the Commissioner does not extend to interfere in the secular activity and was limited in its scope.

Section 8 makes it clear that the superintendence and control includes the power to pass an order to ensure that institution is properly administered and the income is spent for the purpose for which they were found.

Section 8 (1) is to ensure that the funds are spent for the purposes for which they are intended only.

Section 8(2) which starts with a non-obstante clause also talks of exercise of powers ‘conferred’ on him or the functions ‘entitled’ to him by the Act.  

No statutory provision has been pointed out by which this particular power to give directions to pay minimum wages etc., is shown to the Court.

 Further, Court also added that on the issue that, if Section 8(1) and Section 49 of the Act are read together, the limited powers of the Commissioner become clear. They are limited to the fixing/spending/utilization of the “dittam‟ only. In case of disagreement, the matter has to be referred to a Court for decision (Section 49-Proviso). Similarly, the amendments to Sections 51-53 etc., where the Commissioner has been substituted by the “Dharmika Parishad” also makes it clear that the role of the Commissioner is very limited.

The Minimum Wages Act applies to certain employments (preamble) which are specified as “scheduled employments” Section 2(g). Employments specified in Part-I/II of the Schedule (Section 3). The schedule is silent about employment in a Math.

“…only in cases of misconduct or mismanagement of the properties by the Mahant, it would be permissible for the State to interfere under Section 51 of the Act.”

 While reaching the conclusion, Bench expressed that the autonomy given to a Math to maintain and administer its activities also supports the view that the respondents cannot interfere in every activity, in case respondents have such a power to interfere every activity it would run contrary to the constitutional and other guarantees given to the religious denominations to carry their own activities.

Therefore, in view of the above analysis, High Court held that the memos dated 04.07.2018; 05.12.2018 and the consequential memo dated 19.04.2021 will not be applicable to the petitioner – Math. [Sri Raghavendra Swamy Mutt v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine AP 2938, decided on 21-9-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Counsel for the Petitioners: Sri C.R. Sridharan, Senior counsel rep. Sri G.V.S.Ganesh

Counsel for the Respondents: Government Pleader for Endowments

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: Asserting that “Deity” in the temple is a “minor” and the Court should be astute to protect the interests of an idol in any litigation, S.M. Subramaniam, J., held that,

When the trustee or the Executive Officer or the custodian of the idol, temple and its properties, leave the same in lurch, any person interested in respect of such temple or worshipping deity can certainly be clothed with an adhoc power of representation to the protect its interest.

Background

Petitioner submitted that land to an extent of 3227 sq. feet belonged to the 4th respondent temple and the superstructure originally belonged to the father of the petitioner.

Further, it was stated that by a registered sale deed, petitioner’s father had sold the superstructure along with the Lease Hold Rights to his brother. After the death of the father of the petitioner, his brother Mr D. Kumarasamy executed the settlement deed in favour of the petitioner.

Pursuant to the said settlement deed, the petitioner was a permissible tenant and was in continuous possession and enjoyment of the property till date by letting out to tenants. Further, the petitioner claimed that he paid the admitted rent regularly. He requested the 4th respondent for name transfer as he had done some minor repairs to the property.

Adding to the above, it stated that the 4th respondent had been increasing the rent and the same was being paid by the petitioner.

Petitioner submitted that the 4th respondent had terminated the lease deed and thereafter, the suit was filed for injunction not to put up any illegal construction in the temple properties.

In view of the above circumstances, the competent authorities initiated action under Section 78 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 and passed the eviction order. An eviction order had been communicated to the petitioner and thereafter an appeal was filed.

In an earlier order, this Court had directed the petitioner to deposit a sum of Rs 10,00,000 before the third respondent temple and the petitioner paid the said amount and thereafter, Court directed respondent 1 to dispose of the appeal.

What is the Grievance of the petitioner?

Petitioner stated that during the pendency of the appeal, respondent was initiating the steps to evict the petitioner as respondent 1 had not granted any interim stay of the eviction order.

Due to the above-stated facts, instant petitioner was moved.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Petitioner claimed to be the authorized leaseholder of the subject temple, though he could not produce any lease deed or documents to establish that his father was a leaseholder recognized by the Temple Authorities.

Bench noted that no one was holding a valid lease document properly executed by the Temple Authorities.

Court opined that the manner in which the temple properties were dealt with by the petitioner, sixth respondent and father of the petitioner were absolutely in violation of the provisions of the Act, and they were not only encroachers and illegal occupants, but utilized the property of the temple in an unlawful manner for their personal and unjust gains.

Bench was shocked to note the above and stated that though the Authorities initiated action, this Court had to record that such actions initiated were not only insufficient but raised a doubt about the active or passive collusion on the part of Competent Authorities of the temple.

Section 34 of the Act enumerates ‘alienation of immovable Trust property’. Sub section (1) of Section 34 stipulates that “Any exchange, sale or mortgage and any lease for a term exceeding five years of any immovable property, belonging to, or given or endowed for the purpose of, any religious institution shall be null and void unless it is sanctioned by the Commissioner as being necessary or beneficial to the institution”.

Court observed that, the temple property, which is meant for the benefit of the temple, can never be allowed to be encumbered in a different manner and in such circumstances, the Courts are bound to step in and deal with the issues properly

Significant, the Bench observed that where the persons in management of a temple failed to protect the interest of the temple diligently, the Court is empowered to take notice of such facts and deal with the issues in an appropriate manner.

If there are lapses, slackness or negligence on the part of the Executive Officer and the trustees of the temple, “it is the duty of the Court to ensure that the ‘Deity’ does not suffer thereby. The Courts should be astute to protect the interests of an idol in any litigation.”

Continuing to make some very interesting observations, Court added that the temple properties are allowed to be looted by few greedy men and by few professional criminals and land grabbers.

Lapses, negligence, dereliction of duty on the part of public officials are also to be viewed seriously and all appropriate actions in this regard are highly warranted.

High Court also noted that there are many instances where persons entrusted with the duty of managing and safeguarding the properties of temples deities and Devaswom Boards have usurped and misappropriated such properties by setting up false claims ownership or tenancy, or adverse possession.

The above is only possible with the passive or active collusion of the authorities concerned.

Such acts of ‘fences eating the crops’ should be dealt with sternly.

In the present matter, Court stated that the petitioner was not only an encroacher but abused the property of the temple for his personal gains. He has been enjoying the temple properties in an illegal manner, but derived profit from the temple properties and the profit gained was running to several lakhs.

In view of the above said, Bench expressed that,

High Court has its constitutional obligation in such circumstances to step-in and protect the interest of the minor idol and issue appropriate orders.

Directions of the Court:

  • Respondents 1 to 5 are directed to complete the eviction in all aspects and take over possession of the temple properties and deal with the same in accordance with the provisions of the Act and more specifically for the benefit of the temple administration;
  • Respondents 1 to 5 are directed to conduct an enquiry and assess the financial loss occurred to the subject temple and initiate all appropriate actions against all the persons concerned for the recovery of the financial loss caused to the temple;
  • Respondents 1 to 5 are directed to look into the active or passive collusion on the part of the Authorities in dealing with the temple properties in such a manner and initiate appropriate action against all those Authorities, who have contributed for the maladministration of the temple properties

[K. Senthilkumar v. Government of Tamil Nadu, WP No. 18190 of 2021, decided on 15-09-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For Petitioner:G. Devi, For Mr V. Raghupathi

For Respondents: Mr N.R.R. Arun Natarajan, Government Advocate,  [For R1 to R4]

Mr Willson Topaz, For M/s A.S. Kailasam and Associates

Government Advocate [For R5]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Division Bench of M.M. Sundresh and S. Ananthi, JJ., while addressing the matter expressed that:

The classification among men has got no place in the aboard of God.

Petitioner sought a writ of mandamus directing respondents 3 to 6 to conduct a peace committee meeting for the purpose of conducting the festival in the Temple.

Bench, while addressing the matter, expressed that “We are dealing with a very unfortunate case.”

Adding to the above expression, Court elaborated that Temple is a place of religious worship, based upon faith. When people go to the Temple out of faith, there cannot be any difference based upon colour or creed.

In the present matter, Court stated that there is a difference among the persons belonging to three communities. God does not recognize any community. It only recognizes a human being, who goes there to pray.

Further, it was added that, if such activities like peace committee meetings will be permitted, it will strike against the very spirit of the Constitution.

Hence, the High Court opined that a temple shall not be a place for perpetuating communal separation leading to discrimination, on the other hand, it should facilitate all those persons having common faith to come and worship.

In view of the above discussion, Court decides not to interfere in the matter, leaving it upon the discretion of eight respondent. [M. Padmanabhan v. District Collector,  2021 SCC OnLine Mad 698, decided on 11-02-2021]


Advocates who appeared in the matter:

For Petitioner: A.V.Arun and V.Karuna, Advocates

For Respondents:

K.P. Krishnadoss, Special Government Pleader

K.P. Narayanakumar, Special Government Pleader

S.Anwar Sameem

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: A Division Bench of Abhay Shreeniwas Oka, CJ and M. Nagaprasanna, J., while addressing a matter held that,

“right to construct unauthorized temple and that also on a footpath cannot be said to be an essential part of any religion or religious practice which can be protected under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.”

Purpose for filing the present petition was pointing out the failure of BBMP to demolish the unauthorized temple constructed on a footpath more particularly described in the petition.

BBMP had assured the Court to remove the illegal structure of the temple on the footpath.

But it has be noted that till today, the illegal structure of the temple has not been removed notwithstanding the grant of time on several occasions.

On 4th March, 2020 I.A. No. 1 of 2020 was filed, wherein the Court observed that,

“applicant was a member of the Residents Welfare Association. As a citizen, the applicant should be interested in ensuring that all the structures in the area are constructed after obtaining due permission from BBMP. A residents’ Association cannot support the illegality especially, when the subject illegal construction carried out is on a footpath.

The duty of the citizens is to assist the Authorities like BBMP to ensure that no illegal constructions come up and the same are demolished. The footpaths are meant for walking by citizens and not for constructing temples. Therefore, I.A.No.1/2020 is rejected.”

The fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India does not extend to offering worship or prayers at each and every place. Surely, the fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India cannot be invoked for protecting an illegal structure of a temple which is on a footpath.

The right to construct unauthorized temple and that also on a footpath cannot be said to be an essential part of any religion or religious practice which can be protected under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

Bench stated that the duty of the citizens is to see that no illegal structure and especially, illegal religious structure comes up in their locality. But they want to protect a temple which has come up on a footpath.

We do not think that any god or religion will support an illegal religious structure which is on a footpath. A religious structure cannot become an obstacle on a footpath which is meant for walking.

After one applications of the residents was rejected, this is the second application for intervention which cannot be entertained. In the application it is claimed that the temple was in established in 1854. 

For the above, Court stated that the photographs of the structure clearly shows that the statement was false and the structure appeared to be a newly constructed structure.

Court rejected the application and saddled them with exemplary costs.

Petition was adjourned till 30-07-2020.[ Sanathana Kalakshetra v. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, 2020 SCC OnLine Kar 871 , decided on 14-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: The Division Bench of Narayana Swami, CJ and Jyotsna Rewal Dua, J., disposed of an appeal in the proceeding for shutting down/shifting of liquor vend from Gram Panchayat, Beri, to Gram Panchayat, Jangal, District Hamirpur.

The counsel for the petitioner, Ajay Sharma and Anandita Sharma, stated that the liquor vend was just 20-30 meters from ‘Shani dev temple’ and the Gram Sabha had passed a resolution requesting the authorities to shift the vend from Gram Panchayat Beri to Gram Panchayat Jangal.

The counsel for the defendants, Ajay Vaidya and Surinder Saklani, contended that the vend was allotted in accordance with the existing Excise Policy also the liquor vend confirms the distance requirement and the temple was not visited by the public at large thus it would not fall under the category of place of worship by public at large. In addition to that, the temple was built just around six months back whereas the liquor vend existed from a prior period than the temple. The period of operation of liquor vend was from 01-04-2019 to 31-03-2020. The liquor vend was already operational for the past eight months then.

The Court while disposing of the petition explained that only after the allotment of liquor vend in favor of respondent they were running the same w.e.f 1-4-2019 and said allotment was valid only till 31-3-2020, the said liquor vend could run till 31-3-2020. The Court also issued directions to the State Government to make conscious decisions in such matters. [Arun Thakur v. State of Himachal Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine HP 1923, decided on 15-11-2019]

Chhattisgarh High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The Bench of Goutam Bhaduri, J. declared that the priests had no right to claim from the offerings that were been bestowed upon the deity by the worshippers.

The petitioners who were the priests of a temple had challenged an order whereby the dissolution of the trust committee of the temple was ordered. They contended that their ancestors had made the Maha Maya Mandir Trust from their own income 300 years ago the future expenses were accordingly born by them following which the petitioners shall get all rights and control over the said trust inclusive of the offerings to the deity. It was further pleaded that the priest for the worship of Mandir may be appointed from the family of the applicant alone and thus the 10% amount of the offering to be given to them was highly misdirected by the previous Court.

Considering the facts of the case the Court stated that to offer a Puja in the Mandir to the deity by priest would not automatically envelop the offering made to the deity to be the property of the priests and thus the offers that were made by the worshipers were to the deity and not the priests. Accordingly, the circuitous route to have a right over the offerings being made to the deity through the priests cannot be given effect to.[Shivwanath Jogi v. Ganesh Bajpai, 2019 SCC OnLine Chh 2, decided on 02-01-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: The 5-Judge Constitution Bench comprising of CJ Dipak Misra, Rohinton Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, Dr D.Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra JJ., by a 4:1 majority, allowed the entry of women in Sabarimala Temple, Kerala.

CJ Dipak Misra: Women no way inferior to men. On one hand, women are worshipped as Goddesses, but there are restrictions on the other hand. Relationship with God can’t be defined by biological or physiological factors.

CJ and Khanwilkar, J: Rule 3(b) of Kerala Temple Entry Act which excludes women aged between 10 and 50 violates freedom of a Hindu religion to worship. Right to worship is equally available to men and women. There can be no discrimination on the basis of gender.

 Dr D.Y. Chandrachud J.: To treat women as the children of a lesser God is to blink at the Constitution.

“The ban says presence of women deviates from celibacy. This is placing the burden of a men’s celibacy on women. Stigmatises them, stereotypes them.”

R.F. Nariman J.: Rule 3(b) is unconstitutional for being violative of Articles 25(1) & 15(1) of the Constitution. Excluding women renders their right to practice faith.

 Indu Malhotra J. (dissents): What is essential practice in a religion is for the religion to decide, it is a matter of personal faith. India is a land of diverse faiths. Constitutional morality in a pluralistic society gives freedom to practice even irrational customs. Religious practices cannot be solely tested on the bedrock of equality.

“Religious practices can’t solely be tested on the basis of the right to equality. It’s up to the worshippers, not the Court to decide what’s religion’s essential practice.”

Indu Malhotra J. Judges cannot intervene and decide on whether a practice is violative of fundamental rights or not. Personal views of judges do not matter. A religious denomination has freedom to believe and practice even if their beliefs are illogical or irrational.

Hence, the Constitution Bench with 4:1 majority removed the ban on entry of women in the Sabarimala Temple stating “Women can’t be treated as lesser or weaker.”

Judgment awaited.

High Courts

Madras High Court: In a petition filed, seeking the writ of mandamus, directing the State of Tamil Nadu to construct a ‘Bharat Mata’ temple upon the lands belonging to a revered freedom fighter, the Division Bench of S.K. Kaul, C.J. and T. Sivaganam, J., scrutinized the significant delay in the construction of the temple, and directed the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu for the critical examination of the representations made by the petitioner and pass a reasoned order within two months from the date of the communication of the order.

In the present case, the petitioner via Senior Counsel R. Gandhi contended the massive delay in the construction of Bharat Mata temple on lands purchased by a freedom fighter and presently under the control of the State Government. The temple was the brainchild of the revered freedom fighter Subramaiya Siva and was conceived in order to depict the unity, diversity and integrity of India, but the anticipated project could not materialize due to the imprisonment and ill-health of freedom fighter. The counsel for the State V.R. Kamalanathan put forth that, at present land houses the memorial hall of Subramaiya Siva.

The Court found it hard to believe the significant gap of implementation of aforesaid project. The Court further observed that, the project could have been carried out either by Government funding or from contributory measures by willing residents. Nonetheless, the Court expressed its consent on the reasoning behind the construction of Bharat Mata temple, calling this measure admissible and admirable in framing unity and correspondence over divisive agendas of damaging caste and religion. Kumari Anandan v. State of Tamil Nadu, decided on 19.06.2015