The Karnataka High Court on 14th December 2020 dismissed writ petitions which sought that non-Hindus should not be permitted to work in the office of Commissioners under the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay S Okaremarked that "The Hindu religion was never so narrow. Hindu religion as professed never consisted of people who are so narrow minded." Highlighted points of the writ petitions as follows:
The bench orally observed:
- Strict implementation of Section 7 of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 thereby, seeking that no person who is not professing Hindu religion be permitted to work in the office of Commissioner appointed under the said Act.
- Questions on the printing of the name of A B Ibrahim, who was working as deputy commissioner with the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Department, Mangaluru, on the invitation card of the annual festival organized by the Mahalingeswara Temple.
- Objection pertaining to the appointment of Mohamad Deshav Alikhan as Superintendent in the office of the Commissioner under the Act.
- A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty was surprised on reading the prayer in the petition filed by Amruthesh, which sought directions to restrain the deputy commissioner from entering the temple.
"What heavens are going to fall if respondent 4 being the Deputy Commissioner, for overlooking the arrangements will enter the temple. Hindu religion was never so narrow. Hindu religion as professed never consisted of people who are so narrow minded." The court further asserted:
"There are instances, go all over the country, where in big Hindu festivals, the government officers who do not profess Hindu religion have actively assisted the administration". Chief Justice Oka vehemently objected the maintainability of the petitions as Public Interest Litigations, he said :
"After the Constitution has come into force, we will never entertain such petitions in the court. There is something known as the Constitution, there is something known as Constitutional philosophy.We will not entertain a petition which will take us 100 years back."
In its order the bench referred to section 7 of the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 Act, which reads as infra: Section 7: Commissioner, etc. to be Hindu.- The Commissioner and every Deputy Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner and every other Officer or servant, appointed to carry out the purposes of this Act by whomsoever appointed, shall be a person professing Hindu Religion, and shall cease to hold office as such when he ceases to profess that religion.
After referring to Section of the Act the bench said: "On plain reading of section 7, there is no general prohibition on appointing an officer or servant to work in the offices of commissioner, deputy commissioner or assistant commissioner. The restriction imposed by section 7 is that Commissioner, Dy Commissioner, Asst Commissioner and every officer or servant appointed to carry out purposes of the said act of 1997, shall be a person professing Hindu religion. The test for applicability is that the officer or servant is appointed to carry out the purpose of the Act." Court in its order propounded two illustrations to drive its point further.
- A computer programmer or data entry operator may be appointed to the office of commissioner to create computer programs or data entry in the office of commissioner. It cannot be said that such a data entry operator or programmer has been appointed to carry out the purpose of the act.
- Another example it cited was that if a group D employee is appointed to clean the offices of Commissioner, it cannot be said that such a servant is appointed to carry out the purposes of the Act.
Accordingly the bench noted that "therefore to decide whether the prohibition under Section 7 is applicable, it is necessary to consider the nature of duties assigned to the officer concerned." At the end the bench noted that:
"Judicial notice will have to be taken of the fact that government officers, police officers, irrespective of their religious faith and beliefs effectively assist all religions in celebrating their respective religious festivals. In fact that is part of the Constitutional philosophy and concept of Secularism."
The bench thus refused to grant any relief and dismissed the petitions.