NEW DELHI: The Uttar Pradesh government found itself in a spot of bother on Tuesday as the Supreme Court said larger public interest required that the state create a legal regime on temples and charitable endowments and warned that without a law, anyone could install an idol, construct a temple and take donations from devotees.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice N V Ramana told senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who appeared for UP, that the state, in its affidavit, had taken the stand that it “is not interested in enacting any legislation to take care of issues relating to temples and religious endowments, and has limited role only to manage these if it was required for the purpose of maintaining public order”.
The bench said it could lead to an anomalous situation where anyone could install an idol, construct a temple and start taking donations from devotees. “Will the state remain silent when anyone can start collecting donations from devotees without conforming to any regulation? What will happen then? There is a large scope for people who could be cheated and temples mismanaged. This certainly involves a larger public interest. We are not interested in ruling on regulating temples. But we are concerned about public interest,” it said.
Ranjit Kumar sought additional time to get instructions from the state on the possibility of enacting a legislation to regulate temples and religious endowments. The bench of Justices Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari granted six weeks to the state to file an additional affidavit. It also recorded the presence of additional chief secretary (religious works) and discharged his further presence. UP has several famous temple cities such as Varanasi, Allahabad, Mathura, Vrindavan and Ayodhya among others.
The case in hand related to management of ‘Shree Sarvmangala Debji Bela Bhawani Mandir’, Bulandshahr, UP. The temple, claimed to be over 200 years old, was under the hereditary management of three families of ‘pandas’ (priests), which had founded the temple.
In 2001, a complaint to the state government alleged that temple properties were being mismanaged. The state ordered an inquiry and on the basis of the inquiry report, passed an order on April 4, 2006, constituting a committee under the chairmanship of the district collector to take over management of the temple.
The hereditary priest families filed a writ petition before the Allahabad High Court , seeking to claim the offerings made to the temple and challenging the government taking over the temple management without there being any law for this.
The HC on November 13, 2009, quashed the state’s April 4, 2006, order and ruled that it could not have passed the order taking over property rights of people through an executive order and without enacting any legislation. The original complainant in the case had filed the appeal before the SC.