‘We feel fully justified in declaring that the post of Devaswom Commissioner, under the TCHRI Act, is a part of the Devaswom Department under it and axiomatically that, under the rigor of Section 29(1), such an officer will always have to be a person professing the Hindu religion. It is so declared.’
The Kerala High Court has declared that Devaswom Commissioner, under the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950, will always have to be a person professing the Hindu religion.
The division bench comprising Justice PR Ramachandra Menon and Justice Devan Ramachandran made this ‘declaration’ while disposing writ petitions filed by BJP State President PS Sreedharan Pillai, Former TDB President Prayar Gopalakrishnan, Akhila Kerala Thanthri Mandalam and Hindu Aikya Vedi General Secretary RV Babu, who had challenged certain amendments made to the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950. The prime contention of all these petitioners was that, they suspect, by all these amendments read together, the attempt of the Government is to induct a “non- Hindu” as the Devaswom Commissioner.
The court observed that though Section 29(1) of the Act provides that Devaswom Department shall consist only of Hindu Officer, the amendments brought in now appears to have created a ‘gray area’ where it could be interpreted that either only a Hindu Joint Secretary to Government can be appointed or that any Joint Secretary to Government can be so appointed on deputation de hors the restrictions in Section 29(1), because nowhere does the TCHRI Act specifically say that a Commissioner will be a part of the Devaswom Department.
The bench, noticing the averments in the affidavit filed by the Government, observed that even the Government has no case that a “non-Hindu” can be appointed as a Devaswom Commissioner; but on the contrary they manifestly admit that only a “Hindu” can be so appointed.
However, the bench proceeded to address concern raised by Advocate PB Krishnan, who appeared for the BJP State President, that another dispensation or administration may try to resile from this stand and attempt to appoint a “non-Hindu” as the Devaswom Commissioner. It then considered the issue whether the post of Devaswom Commissioner can obtain to be construed as one beyond or independent of the Devaswom Department or whether it is a part of the said Department.
Examining this aspect, the bench observed: “The TCHRI Act further inexorably mandates that the Devaswom Commissioner, in his position as the Chief Executive Officer, will act under the supervisory, managerial and disciplinary control of the Board. In the teeth of such unambiguous statutory prescriptions, can one find the post of Devaswom Commissioner to be not part of the Devaswom Department? We think not; particularly because there is no contra provision in the TCHRI Act and adscitiously since the post of a Deputy Commissioner in service, from which the impugned amendment allows a promotion to the post of Commissioner, is without any doubt part of the Devaswom Department and consequently when such a promotion is effected, there being no express statutory stipulation to the contrary, the incumbent would continue to be part of the said department. There, therefore, can be no contrarian interpretation when a Joint Secretary to the Government is appointed as Commissioner on deputation, because in such event also, the said Officer would become part of the Devaswom Department, until he/she is repatriated.”
The bench further added: “The above being our deeply contemplated opinion, it is felicitous that the Government also shares this same view, as is inescapable from the afore extracted averments in the affidavit, wherein they explicitly concede that the Devaswom Commissioner is an intrinsic part and component of the Devaswom Department and therefore, that even if a Joint Secretary to Government is appointed on deputation, he will certainly have to be a Hindu. This position, in our view, is crystallized in the substratum of the TCHRI Act itself, wherein it inviolably mandates the Commissioner, as the Chief Executive Officer of the Board, to be in charge of not merely the temporal activities but also of the religious traditions and rites of the various temples; and, therefore, it does not require any further expatiation that such an officer will have to be a Hindu by religion.”