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Judiciary

SC Upholds the Right of Travancore Royal Family Over Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple [READ JUDGMENT]

By Harshil Jain      14 July, 2020 03:08 PM      0 Comments
SC Upholds the Right of Travancore Royal Family Over Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple [READ JUDGMENT]

On 13 July 2020, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the royal family at Travancore to manage and control the affairs of Sree Padnabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The verdict resolved the dispute on whether the power to control the Padnabhaswamy temple vests with the Kerala government or the Travancore royal family.

The order was passed by a division bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit and Indu Malhotra, wherein, it was held that the death of the last ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore does not affect shebaitship of the royal family over the deity, and it will survive as per custom.

The Bench ruled, “We hold that the death of Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma who had signed the Covenant, would not in any way affect the Shebaitship of the Temple held by the royal family of Travancore; that after such death, the Shebaitship must devolve in accordance with the applicable law and custom upon his successor; that the expression “Ruler of Travancore” as appearing in Chapter III of Part I of the TC Act must include his natural successors according to law and custom; and that the Shebaitship did not lapse in favor of the State by the principle of escheat.”

The family had suggested that the powers to administer the temple could be delegated to an Administrative Committee, under the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act (TC Act). The said Administrative Committee comprises:

  1. Chairman - A retired IAS officer of the rank of Secretary to the State Government, nominated by the trustee royal family in consultation with the Govt. of Kerala;
  2. One member nominated by the royal family (trustee);
  3. One member nominated by the Kerala state government;
  4. One member nominated by the Union Ministry of Culture; and
  5. Chief Thantri of the temple.

Apart from the Administrative Committee, the royal family also suggestion constitution of an Advisory Committee, comprising−

Chairman - A retired 

  1. High Court judge, nominated by the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court;
  2. An eminent person to be nominated by the trustee;
  3. A well-reputed Chartered Accountant nominated by the Chairperson in consultation with the Trustee.

Commenting on the said proposition, the Court said that the composition of these committees is “quite balanced” and stands neither in favor nor against the appellant royal family when observed under the provisions of the TC Act. However, it suggested that the District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram should replace an IAS officer for the post of Chairman of the Committee.

The bench observed, “As against the administration contemplated by Chapter III of Part I of the TC Act in the hands of the Ruler of Travancore in absolute terms, the course now suggested by the appellants is quite balanced.”

“The powers of the Ruler of Travancore under Section 18(2) of the TC Act shall stand delegated to the Administrative Committee while the Advisory Committee shall be deemed to be the Committee constituted in terms of Section 20 of the TC Act. It is made clear that all the members including the Chairpersons of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee must be Hindus and fulfill the requirements in Section 2(aa) of the TC Act,” it added.

In pursuance of the said delegation of powers to the Administrative Committee and acceptance of the suggested modifications therein, the Court directed the appellant to file an affidavit of undertaking that shall be binding on the appellant’s successors as well. In furtherance of this, the Court also laid down the functions of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee, which include:

  1. Preserve all treasures and properties endowed to Sree Padmanabhaswamy and those belonging to the Temple; Protect all tenanted properties and take appropriate measures to ensure reasonable returns from such tenanted properties
  2. Ensure that all rituals and religious practices are performed in accordance with the instructions and guidance of the Chief Thantri of the Temple and according to the customs and traditions. In temporal matters, the Committees shall be guided by the advice given by the Chief Thantri. The designation of the Chief Thantri shall be done in accordance with the customs and traditions.

Shall take appropriate steps to return to the State the amounts expended by the State Governments as cataloged in the Chart 

  1. in paragraph No. 44 hereinabove (Rs 11,70,11,000).
  2. All the income accruing to the Temple, as well as the offerings made by the worshippers, shall be expended in the following manner: (i) To improve the facilities for the worshippers; and (ii) For such religious and charitable purposes as the Advisory Committee may deem appropriate; and (iii) In investments that will fetch reasonable returns and ensure that the properties of the Temple are completely safe and secure.
  3. Recover and retrieve any property or funds of the temple which have been put to misuse or have been in an unauthorized occupation or misappropriated.
  4. Shall order audit for the last 25 years as suggested by the learned Amicus Curie. The audit shall be conducted by a firm of reputed Chartered Accountants. The Advisory Committee shall also consider what further steps need to be taken for the preservation of the Temple properties, both movable and immovable.
  5. Take appropriate steps for conservation of the Temple and its precincts, as well as for the improvement of all the facilities.
  6. Shall consider whether Kallara B is to be opened for the purpose of inventorization. The interim orders dated 27.11.2014 and 04.07.2017 passed by this Court and recorded that Kallara B was not opened and it was directed that inventorization with respect to said Kallara B be undertaken only after obtaining express orders from this Court. We deem it appropriate to leave this issue to the best judgment and discretion of the Committees.
  7. Conduct all the obligations which from time to time were bestowed on various Committees by this Court including that of the Selection Committee for Sreekovil.
  8. Shall file reports in this Court by the second week of December 2020 stating all the developments in brief till then. The next Report shall be filed after the accounts for the year ending 31.03.2021 are audited.
  9. Shall file the audited accounts and the Balance Sheet with the office of the Accountant ‘General for the State every year.

The Hon’ble Court allowed the interim committee, headed by the District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram, to control the administration of the temple till a new committee is formed.

The case was instituted in 2009 by a former IPS officer TP Sundarrajan when he filed a PIL in the Kerala HC praying that the control of the Temple should be transferred from the royal family to the Kerala government.

Thereafter, Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanian was appointed as Amicus Curiae in the matter. Expenditures and accounts of the Temple were audited by former CAG Vinod Rai.

 

[READ JUDGMENT]



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