Supreme Court Orders Status Quo On Appointment Of Archakas(Priests) In Agamic Temples In Tamil Nadu
The Supreme Court on Monday(September 25) ordered status quo relating to the appointment of Archakas (poojari/priest) in Agamic Temples in the State of Tamil Nadu.In August 2022, a division bench of the Madras High Court had read down the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020 to hold that they would not apply to temples constructed as per agamas...
The Supreme Court on Monday(September 25) ordered status quo relating to the appointment of Archakas (poojari/priest) in Agamic Temples in the State of Tamil Nadu.
In August 2022, a division bench of the Madras High Court had read down the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020 to hold that they would not apply to temples constructed as per agamas in relation to the qualifications and appointments of archakas/poojaris. As per the Rules, the qualification of a one-year certificate course has been prescribed for Archakas and even if an Archaka has been performing pooja for many years, he would not be eligible for appointment in the absence of the certification under the Rules.
According to the High Court ruling, since Agamic Temples have their own customs and usages, only persons from those denominations who have traditionally performed pujas, may be appointed as archakas.
Sr. Adv. Guru Krishna Kumar, appearing for the ‘All India Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Seva Association’ submitted before the Apex Court that despite the HC ruling, the state is proceeding to make appointments irrespective of denomination, claiming that they have the requisite training. ‘The state is proceeding as though, there is no division bench order. They are merrily going about appointing people, saying that they are trained.’ Kumar told the Court.
A bench of Justice AS Bopanna and Justice MM Sundresh while issuing notice in the writ petition filed by the All India Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Seva Association, ordered that status quo be maintained in the matter of appointment of Archakas in Agamic Temples.
“Different views are being taken and the government is continuing to issue orders. The problem is confounded by the fact that, one single judge takes one view and another single judge takes another view, and for every temple we are having to go before the court. the Division bench ruling notwithstanding, one single judge, says person of any caste can be appointed. Another single judge says, the division bench of judgment cannot be violated, saying that so far as agamic temples are concerned, you cannot take anybody else from another caste, you have to go by denominational rights. Those are pending in writ appeals.” Kumar submitted in Court.
‘There are about 42,500 temples in Tamil Nadu and the agamic temples make up less than 10% of this. So far as non-agamic temples are concerned, we have no grievance.’ he stated.
In August 2022, the Madras High Court had exempted temples constructed as per agamas from the rules brought by the Tamil Nadu Government in 2020 in relation to the qualifications and appointments of archakas/poojaris.
A division bench of the High Court had read down Rules 7 and 9 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020 to hold that they will not apply to temples constructed as per agamas.
Rule 7 prescribed the qualification for archakas and other temple employees and Rule 9 dealt with the process for direct recruitment. As per these Rules, qualification of one year certificate course has been prescribed for Archaka and even if an Archaka has been performing pooja for past many years, he is not eligible for appointment in the absence of the certification under the Rules.
The High Court had said that reading down of the said Rules were necessary so as to exempt temples constructed as per agamas. Otherwise, it would offend the fundamental rights to practice religion and the rights of a religious denomination to manage its affairs guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The Court however refrained from striking down the said Rules in their entirety, as they dealt with other appointments as well.
Plea Before The Apex Court
A connected plea before the Apex Court raised an issue with the observation of the High Court regarding transfer of temple employees from one Agamic Temple to another Agamic Temple. The petitioner contented that this finding needs to be modified since each temple is distinct and has its own customs, usages and practices.
The other issue raised in the plea was with respect to the role played by the appointing authority, in the absence of an elected trustee. The Petitioner in this regard contended that after the expiry of the tenure of the trustees, and when there is no elected trustee to take his place, there is a possibility of the executive officer/fit person taking on the role for an extended period without making the effort to make further appointments.
The Supreme Court had recently sought the response of the state of Tamil Nadu regarding both the issues.
Case Title: Srirangam Koil Miras Kainkaryaparagal Matrum Athanai Sarntha Koilgalin Miraskainkaryaparargalin Nalasangam V. The State Of Tamil Nadu & Ors SLP(C ) No. 19553/2023, All India Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Seva Association Vs. The State Of Tamil Nadu And Ors, W.P.(C) No. 985/2023 and connected ases.