Deity Not Stripped Of Title To Religious Property Maintained By Local Authority Without Acquisition: Kerala High Court
The Kerala High Court has held that a deity cannot be divested of title to a land owned by it which is used for religious purposes, without a legal process such as acquisition or voluntary transfer. A bench of Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajithkumar found that the property in question was used as a Temple road for religious activities and that the title of Deity will not be...
The Kerala High Court has held that a deity cannot be divested of title to a land owned by it which is used for religious purposes, without a legal process such as acquisition or voluntary transfer.
A bench of Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajithkumar found that the property in question was used as a Temple road for religious activities and that the title of Deity will not be divested because the road was maintained by the local authorities under social obligation.
“It is a Temple road and has been in the use of the public, including for the purposes of religious activities. The local authority would have maintained it out of its social obligation. Albeit such maintenance, the road never was brought to the asset register. It being a property of the Deity, by such an overt act of tarring alone, the title of the Deity will not be divested. There shall be a process known to law, such as acquisition, voluntary transfer, etc. for the Deity to lose its title to a property.”
The petitioner, Cochin Devaswom Board, filed the petition against the District Collector challenging an order that declined its claim for compensation regarding 11.364 Ares of land acquired for a road connecting the International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT), Vallarpadam.
The Collector had also cancelled the correction made in the Settlement Register which stated that the land belonged to Cheranalloor Bhagavathy Devaswom. The petitioner sought a writ of certiorari to quash the said order and a declaration of entitlement to compensation, along with an order for payment.
The Cheranalloor Panchayat claimed that the road in question vested with them under the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, despite conceding that it was not in their asset register. The petitioner refuted this claim, stating that the Panchayat had no right over the property, and the Secretary of the Grama Panchayat admitted this during earlier proceedings.
The petitioner argued that the land belonged to the Deity as the registers maintained by the Panchayat would not show that the property belonged to the Panchayat. They argued that the property belonged to the Deity and when re-survey was conducted, the authorities mistakenly marked the property as puramboke land. They submitted that this error was corrected after enquiry and the property was restored with the Deity and thus they were entitled to compensation.
The District Collector rejected the petitioner's claims, mainly based on the land's classification as puramboke in the records and the belief that it belonged to the Panchayat. The Collector also cited public use and maintenance by the Panchayat as reasons for rejecting the claim.
The Court found that on the previous two occasions, it had directed the respondents to consider the claim of the petitioner for compensation over the land. It found that the respondents had disregarded the directions of the Court issued in the previous judgments. It also found that the respondents were claiming possession of the property without understanding the Kerala Survey and Boundaries Act and the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act.
The bench highlighted that survey records are not evidence of property ownership but only determine boundaries. It further held that survey authorities or the District Collector shall determine only the boundaries of land and not decide the question of the title based on resurvey records.
“Those provisions make it clear that the powers invested on the Survey Officers as well as the District Collectors under the Act is only to determine the boundaries of the land and not to decide title to the properties. Its corollary is that the survey authorities or the District Collector shall not decide the question of the title based on resurvey records.
The Court further held that resurvey authorities would have marked the road belonging to the petitioner as puramboke since it was lying as a road being used by the public and its tarring work was undertaken by the Panchayat. The Court found that the Panchayat might have done maintenance works on the road out of social obligation and that would not mean that the property was vested with the Panchayat.
Based on the evidence available, the Court found that the property belonged to the Cheranelloor Devaswom. It held that merely because the land was marked as puramboke in survey or resurvey records, the Devaswom will not lose title over their property.
On the basis of the above observations, the Court held that the petitioner was entitled to compensation for the 11.364 Ares of land in question.
“It is especially so when we found that the Cheranelloor Devaswom under the management of the Cochin Devaswom Board is the owner of the land in question and therefore Ext.P14 is liable to be set aside.”
Accordingly, the petition was allowed.
Counsel for the Petitioner: Standing Counsel for Cochin Devaswom Board, K P Sudheer
Counsel for the respondents: Deputy Solicitor General of India, S. Manu for R1, Special Government Pleader M.H. Hanil Kumar for R2, Senior Government Pleader S. Rajmohan for R3 to R7, Advocate H. Kiran for R8 and Advocate T.K Ajithkumar for R9.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 515
Case title: Cochin Devaswom Board V Union of India
Case number: W.P.(C) No.27754 of 2019