Kerala High Court Rejects Plea Challenging Appointment of Non-Hereditary Trustees at Sree Emoor Bhagavathy Temple

The Kerala High Court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed by a hereditary trustee of the Sree Emoor Bhagavathy temple challenging the notice issued by council commissioner Malabar Devaswom inviting applications for the post of non-hereditary trustees of the temple.

A dividing bench of Judge Anil K. Narendran and Judge PG Ajithkumar disagrees with the claimant’s argument that the chief executive appointed by the commissioner cannot act like an autocrat, ignore the authority and power of the hereditary trustees, or forget that he is only a servant of the board of directors.

“The executive officer shall exercise the powers and perform the duties, as assigned by the defendant 3rd commissioner, in the administration of the temple in question. Where the power and duties of an executive officer are specified in the statute, the claimant cannot argue that the 6th officer respondent is merely an agent of the board of directors, who is bound by the decisions of the board of directors consisting of two hereditary directors.”

The claimant, a hereditary trustee of Sree Emoor Bhagavathy Temple, had applied to the Court to challenge the notice issued by the Commissioner for the appointment of non-hereditary trustees. He also requested a statement that since no decision has been made on the need and necessity of appointing non-hereditary trustees to manage the properties of the Devaswom, the current board of trustees (which consists of two hereditary administrators) has the right to manage the affairs of the temple.

Lawyer U. Balagangadharan appearing for the petitioner argued that for the appointment of non-hereditary trustees, the commissioner must comply with the requirements of Section 39(2) of the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act (HR&CE Act). Therefore, he argued that the procedure adopted to issue the contested notification is itself arbitrary and illegal.

The petitioner also argued that the commissioner is acting under pressure exerted on him by his political masters, who want to induct their own people into the board of trustees to interfere in the affairs of the temple and also the school and politicize the temple. . administration. It was further argued that the age of the hereditary trustee is not a disqualification and cannot constitute a valid reason for the appointment of non-hereditary trustees while adding that the hereditary trustees were capable of fulfilling their functions.

Senior Government Advocate S. Rajmohan and PB Krishnan’s lawyers, PB Subramanian, sabu george and Manu Vyasan Peter appearing for the respondents contested the motion.

The Court noted that the Sree Emoor Bhagavathy Temple is a public religious institution under HR&CE law, under the control of the Malabar Devaswom Board. The temple and its properties were all invested with divinity.

It was found that under Section 39(1) of the Act, where a religious institution included in the list published under Section 38 or over which no regional committee has jurisdiction, shall not has no hereditary trustee, the commissioner must constitute a board of directors composed of at least three and at most five persons designated by him.

Similarly, under section 39(2), where, in the case of such an institution having a hereditary trustee or trustees; the commissioner, after having advised the trustee(s) and after investigation which he deems adequate, considers, for reasons to be recorded, that the affairs of the institution are not, and probably will not be, properly managed by the trustee(s). hereditary trustees, the commissioner may, by order, appoint such number of non-hereditary trustees as he deems necessary, provided, however, that the total number of trustees does not exceed five.

The Claimant argued that the Thirunavaya Sree Navamukunda Temple Administration Scheme specifically provides that the power of the council and regional committee to appoint non-hereditary trustees under clause (4) is subject to Sections 39 and 41 of the Act. HR&CE. Therefore, it has been argued that the Commissioner cannot avoid serving a notice under section 39(2) citing the scheme is operational. The scheme is framed by the provisions of the law and no scheme can go beyond the framework of the law, asserted the petitioner.

The Court concluded that Section 39(2) of the Act relates to the appointment of hereditary administrators in temples where there is no system. Once such a pattern is framed, the Council must ensure that the administration of the temple is conducted in accordance with that pattern.

“The reference to Sections 39 and 41 of the Act in Section 4 of Reg. Ext.P1 does not in any way affect the right of the Council to appoint non-hereditary trustees in the Temple, under Reg. 4 of said Reg. Therefore, we find no basis for the assertions raised by the petitioner, relying on the provisions of sub-section (2) of article 39 of the law to contest the Ext.P5 notification dated 26.07. 2021 issued by the Respondent 3rd Commissioner.”

Further, the Chamber observed that clauses 3 and 4 of the impugned notification explicitly state that in order to be appointed as a non-hereditary trustee of the temple, the petitioner must be a regular devotee of the temple, who is willing to work actively for the betterment of the temple. .

It has been claimed that such a candidate should be a permanent resident of the Taluk in which the temple is located, who believes in idolatry. Persons who are busy with their employment, office bearers of political parties, active politicians, or those who engage in active participation in political party activities cannot aspire to be appointed as non-hereditary trustees of the temple.

Therefore, the Court held that it is for the Commissioner to take the necessary steps to ensure that any appointment made as a non-hereditary trustee of the temples under the control of the Malabar Devaswom Council is strictly in accordance with these disqualification clauses and of eligibility.

The Bench Division also added that if necessary, the format of the nomination request should be amended appropriately, requiring the candidate to provide details of the disqualification and eligibility clauses. It is up to the commissioner to take the necessary measures in this regard, if he deems it necessary, after submitting it to the Malabar Devaswom Board within one month.

The motion in writ was therefore dismissed subject to these directions.

Case title: K. Chathu Achan c. State of Kerala & Ors.

Quote: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 371

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