By – Pratiksha Bhagat
In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE||Sri Marthanda Varma V/s State of Kerala|
|CITATION||Civil Appeal No. 2732 of 2020|
|DATE OF THE JUDGEMENT||13 July 2020|
|APPELLANTS||Sri Marthanda Varma(D) Through Legal Representatives (LRs).|
|RESPONDENT||State of Kerala and others.|
|A TWO-JUDGE BENCH||J. Uday Umesh Lalit, J. Indu Malhotra.|
|STATUES/ CONSTITUTIONS INVOLVED||Constitution of India, Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act (TC Act),|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS AND ARTICLES||Article 363 of the Indian Constitution1949, Article 366(22) of the Constitution of India 1949, Article 362 of 1949, Article 291.|
A two-Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, Hon’ble Justice Indu Malhotra. Challenges the court regarding the administrations and management of the Padmanabhaswamy temple which is located in Thiruvananthapuram. And for centuries the temple was under the exclusive management of the late king of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, who ruled Travancore for about 18 years and was still managing his time until his death on July 20, 1991.
The issue arose by means of two writ petitions filed by the appellants which challenged the orders and judgements passed by the Kerala High Court in 2011.
Thus, the courts held that it’s the duty of the court to protect as well as safeguard the properties of religious and charitable institutions from wrong claims or misappropriations.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE-
Shree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma was the late king of Travancore and had entered into Covenant in May 1949 with Government of India, in the formation of ‘United States of Travancore and Cochin, thus the late ruler was deceased on 19 july,1991. Instrument of Accession was also being signed between the princely states and the Government of India, thereafter it was under the Devaswom Board under the TC Act when the Administration of the Shree Padmanabhaswamy temple was ‘vested in trust’ by the ruler of Travancore. After which his younger brother Shree Marthanda Varma and his executive officers challenged the court by filing two petitions.
- Writ of Quo Warranto
- Challenging the tenable maintainability and raised a question about the ownership of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
Although, while pronouncing the judgement the Supreme Court has succinctly used the expression ‘shebait’ acquired from the word ‘sewa’ which means service. Shebait which means a helping hand that renders Seva to idols or a deity owes a duty to manage the religious endowments maintaining and preserving the idol property and take care of the deity.
Furthermore, Abolition of Privy Purses took place, as the 26th amendment act deleted article 291and 362 and inserted Article 363A that succinctly stipulated ‘inter alias that all rights, liabilities and obligations of any person who have been recognized to be a ruler of the Indian state or the successor shall be ceased to be reckoned with as such rulers or successors.
Their fore, Article 366 was also amended (made changes) stating that ‘before the onset or beginning of the Constitutional amendment, the person who has recognized as the ruler of the Indian State or a successor’.
FACTS OF THE CASE-
The issue arose by means of two petitions filed by the appellants Shree Marthanda Varma and by the Executive Officers by the temple and the orders were passed by the Kerala High Court in 2011.
The first petition was filed in 2009 by issuing a Writ of Quo Warranto with respect of the Executive Officer who maintains the religious endowments by preserving idols and take care of the deity. Besides prayed that the State be directed to administer the temple on the lines of Guruvayoor Devaswom
The second petition was filed in 2010 and was filed by Shree Marthanda Varma by demanding maintainability and by raising questions to the court about the ownership of the temple.
Few historical facts were also being discussed before delivering the judgement which is the Instrument of Accession was signed between the princely states and the Government of India in the administration of the temple vested in trust since 1949.
By abolishing the privy purses such as deleting Article 291 and 362 by inserting Article 363A. By amending the definition of ‘RULER’ within clause 22 of Article 366.
After the demise of late king Chithra Thirunal Balarama Varma, his younger brother Shree Marthanda Varma took place and took care of the temple.
By analyzing the historical facts related to the administration of the temple in Travancore. The only difference of the Padmanabhaswamy temple was it used to be under the direct control of the Travancore king and that the temple was also treated as a state/ public and no anyone’s private property.
- The Late king of Travancore Chithra Thirunal Balarama Varma who ruled Travancore for about 18 years and was still managing the temple until his death on 19july,1991 never claimed the Padmanabhaswamy temple as a family temple of the royal family or an individual property of himself.
- Can the Royal Family or Shree Marthanda can claim the ownership, management and control?
- Whether Shree Padmanabhaswamy temple is a public property or a private?
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT’s SIDE-
The argument arose by the Kerala High Court in 2011 with respect to administrating and maintaining Padmanabhaswamy temple after the deceased late king who took covenant in 1949.
The appellants Shree Marthanda and the Executive officers also raised a question about the ownership of the temple.
As the late king, Chithra Thirunal Balarama Varma managed the temple until his death and was responsible for setting up the Temple. Furthermore, the royal family of Travancore has been subsidizing, funding in favour of the temple and it is considered as a’ family deity’ by the former royal kings.
The appellants thus claimed to the court as it’s Private property, not State/Public property.
Therefore, wanted the Padmanabhaswamy temple to be a Family temple of the Royal family as an individual property of himself.
The Court also referred to few precedent cases of legal aspects to determine the status of Shebaitships. In the case of Angurbala Mullick vs. Debabrata Mullick was the court pronounced that no Honorius should be devoted to and can enjoy the establishment unless the founder of the establishment discard the shebaitship and stated that it was a heritable property which follows the line of the legacy of the founder.
Thus, by this judgement, the Appellant claimed to state that ‘the chain of heritable property is unbroken till the next ruler of Travancore signed the covenant in May 1949’.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT SIDE-
By analyzing facts and historical facts of the Kings of Travancore the court interpreted that the royal family has been endowing the temple and has a significant role by taking care of the temple and by managing it.
Consequently, the temple had all along in hands of the ruling family of Travancore.
But by elucidating the provisions of the Covenant. The court set forth two aspects
- Matters pertaining in administration of the Padmanabhaswamy temple of Article VIII of the covenant ‘The Ruler of the Travancore’.
‘Ruler’ expression of TC Act defined under Article 363 and 366(22) of the constitution
should include his natural successor according to the law and customs after the death of the Royal Family of Travancore.
Thus, the High Court held that the court has jurisdiction ‘parent Patria and declared that the defendants have no dominion power to act or guard the Padmanabhaswamy Temple as it illicitly lawfully held that they have no power authority to occupy the Padmanabhaswamy Temple as a Private property and not as a State/public property.
The precedent case of Revathinnal Balagopala Varma vs. His Highness Shri Padmanabha Dasa Bala Rama Varma (since deceased) and others. It talked about the deletion/cancellation of Article 291after the 26th amendments, liabilities, rights, obligations with respect to the Privy Council.
The Case of Maha Shanker Bhattjee and Others vs. Charity Commissioner, Gujarat State wherein the questioned raised the temple is a private temple or public temple?
Also, the pertinency of the Article363 of the Constitution was inspired by the bench Chief Justice Hidayatullah in the case of Madhav Rao Jivaji Rao Scindia v. Union of India.
Accordingly, the bar mentioned in Article 363of the constitution bench was inspired by Chief Justice Hidayatullah in the case of Madhav Rao Jivayji Rao Scindia v Union of India Article 366.
The Ruler of the Travancore in Chapter III of Part I of the TC Act the expressions refers of TC Act defined under Article 363 and 366(22) of the constitution should include his natural successor according to the law and customs after the death of the Royal Family of Travancore.
If the Padmanabhaswamy temple was the family property of the Royal Family or even the Private property of the rulers as the individual himself. There would be no need for ad hoc measures in the Accession of Agreements or in the TC Act providing for entrusting of the Temple, in trust in the hands of the last ruler of Travancore.
Therefore, the High Court, held that ‘the last ruler was a trustee who has retained the control of the temple for the benefits of the devotees, the state and the public at large’- explains in a judgement.
The High Court stated that none of the successors of the family can claim control over the power of the administration of the temple under Section 18(2) of TC Act after the death of the Chithra Thirunal Balarama Varma (last ruler) and no one can obtain the position.
Furthermore, it is the duty of the court to prevent the plundering of public money in the name of God and Faith.
Where the public money is being collected by temples and by religious institutions, the Government has a duty to ensure that such public institutions should be accountable to the devotees. It shouldn’t be for personal gain.
On Monday. Supreme Court left these matters to be decided by the administrative committee and the advisory committee to set up the legal provisions.
Directions to the Interregnum Administrative committee; –
That the administrative committee and the advisory committee should do well to execute all their functions including the performance of worship of the deity, maintenance of its properties, diligently and in the best interest of the temple and provide adequate requisite to the worshipper: –
- The endowments, treasures, properties should be preserved.
- safeguard all rented properties and take care of the appropriate measures to certify reasonable returns from such rented properties.
- The instructions and guidance of all the rituals and religious practices should be scheduled and performed and shall be guided by the Chief Thanthri, designation of Chief Thanthri shall be done in obedience of ritual and ordiance.
- Shall take steps to return the State amount squander by the State Government.
- All the finance occurring from the temple as well as the offerings made by the worshippers, shall be squandered as follows; –
- Improve facilities for the worshipper
- To set the seal on the properties of the temple are completely safe and secure.
- For such religious and charitable purposes as the advisory committee may deem appropriate.
- Recover and retrieve any property or funds the temple which have been misuse.
- Shall file the audited accounts and balance, every year
- Shall file the reports in the courts summarizing the accounts and files in the brief on the second week of December 2020 by stating all the developments.