Aurobindo Ashram Trustee cannot be removed for failure of taking steps for banning a book against Guru; SC [Read Judgment]

Failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust. Disagreement with the exercise of the discretion does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse, the Court said. 

The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Madan.B.Lokur and S.A.Bobde in Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust vs. R. Ramanathan held that failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust.

Background

The main grievance of the Devotees of Aurobindo was that the Aurobindo Trust failed to take any positive action to prohibit the availability of the objectionable book named ‘“The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” written by one Peter Heehs or dissociate themselves from the objectionable book, for which they filed a suit after obtaining leave of the Court under Section 92 of Code of Civil Procedure. Thereafter the Trust filed an application to revoke the grant of leave which was rejected by the Court. The High Court had also refused to interfere in the order of Trial court.

Failure to take steps to ban a book critical of Aurobindo is not breach of Trust

The Court said that failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust. It might be an omission of the exercise of proper discretion on the part of the trustees, but certainly not an omission touching upon the administration of the Trust, the Bench said.

The court said ”the appellants chose only to express their displeasure may be construed as a mild reaction (as compared to outright condemnation of the objectionable book), particularly since the appellants had nothing to do with its publication. But the question is whether the mild reaction is perverse or could in any way be held to be a breach of trust or an absence of effective administration of the Trust warranting the removal of the trustees. We do not think so.”

The Court also added that the trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a trust and disagreement with the exercise of the discretion does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse.

The Court also observed that the Orissa High Court is yet to take decided on legality or otherwise of the action taken by the concerned authorities in the State in prohibiting the availability of the objectionable book. Until that decision is taken by the High Court, it would be premature to hold that the book is objectionable enough as not to be made available to readers, the Bench said.

Introspect whether litigation is worth to be pursued

The court made the following remarks in the Judgment “It is time for all of us, litigants, lawyers and judges to introspect and decide whether a litigation being pursued is really worth the while and alternatively whether an amicable dispute resolution mechanism could be availed of to settle the dispute to the satisfaction of the litigants. Most problems have a positive solution and a concerted effort must be made by all concerned to find that solution of least resistance to the problem. This is not only in the interest of the parties involved but also in the larger interest of the justice delivery system.”

Read the Judgment here.

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