15 Sep 2023 8:00 AM GMT
The Kerala High Court on Thursday ruled that a hereditary trustee or a member of the family with a hereditary right of trusteeship is not barred from being appointed as an employee in the temple as long as they relinquish their claims to trusteeship before applying.A division bench of Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice P.G Ajithkumar discussed the social reality that hereditary...
The Kerala High Court on Thursday ruled that a hereditary trustee or a member of the family with a hereditary right of trusteeship is not barred from being appointed as an employee in the temple as long as they relinquish their claims to trusteeship before applying.
A division bench of Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice P.G Ajithkumar discussed the social reality that hereditary trusteeship often does not provide financial security, leading individuals to seek employment in the temple, and pointed out that there is no legal bar under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act for hereditary trustees or their family members to apply for temple employment.
"For many, hereditary trusteeship is just an ornamental post, and often then not it would not save one from even starvation. In such cases, it may be totally unjust and inappropriate to deny one from applying for an employment in a temple for the reason that he is or may have a chance on a remote future to become a hereditary trustee of the temple. No doubt, if there is a provision in the statute denying such a right, that will hold the field. There is no such provision in the HR&CE Act. In such circumstances, if a hereditary trustee abandons his right to continue, cannot be denied his right to apply for an employment in the temple."
However, it was clarified that such cases should be processed transparently and independently to avoid bias.
"If a trustee of a temple wants to apply for an employment in the temple or group of temples, he must vacate the post of hereditary trustee before initiating steps for appointment of the post, that is to say, before the date on which the board decides to notify the recruitment ... the whole process of recruitment shall be done by a totally independent body constituted by the Malabar Devaswom Board."
The Sree Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple is a religious institution overseen by the Malabar Devaswom Board and administered by a Board of Trustees. In a notification for job applications at the temple, one of the advertised positions was for 'Kaval cum Kathanavedikkaran', which is a permanent non-hereditary post.
Only the petitioner and the 5th respondent applied for the position. After the selection process, the 5th respondent was ranked first and appointed to the post.
However, the petitioner raised an objection claiming that the 5th respondent, being a hereditary trustee of the temple, was ineligible to be employed in the temple. He argued that the 5th respondent's appointment is like appointing oneself as an employee, violating principles of natural justice.
On the other hand, the Executive Officer denied any bias in the appointment of the 5th respondent and stated that the 5th respondent had ceased to be an active trustee as of January 2022 and was thus eligible to be appointed to the post of 'Kaval cum Kathanavedikkaran' at the temple.
Responding to the allegations, the 5th respondent contended that he had resigned as a hereditary trustee due to personal circumstances and dire living conditions and that his resignation was duly accepted by the authorities. He further argued that there was no legal impediment to his employment in the temple and that the selection process was conducted fairly and independently.
The court looked into the definitions of hereditary trusteeship and highlighted that a hereditary trustee is not appointed but succeeds through an automatic process of succession. It also acknowledged the 5th respondent's resignation as a hereditary trustee, formally accepted on June 3, 2023, before his appointment.
However, the court found that the justifications provided by the respondents did not save the 5th respondent's appointment. His continued status as a hereditary trustee until October 26, 2022, and the lack of documented evidence of his non-participation in board meetings before the appointment suggested bias.
"Simply for the reason that there is no document evidencing his physical participation in the meetings of the board of trustees, it cannot be taken that he did not have any role in the process of appointment. Legally, he continued to be a part of the board of trustees. In such circumstances, we are of the view that the 5th respondent also was a constituent party to the body that made the appointment."
Accordingly, the Court set aside the 5th respondent's appointment and rank list, allowing the Executive Officer to initiate a fresh recruitment process. However, it clarified that the 5th respondent may reapply as long as his resignation as a hereditary trustee remains in force.
As such, the petition was allowed.
Case Title: Hariharan P v. Malabar Devaswom Board & Ors
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 484
Case No: WP(C) No.19383 of 2023
Click Here To Read/Download The Order