22 Feb 2023 3:00 AM GMT
The Kerala High Court on Monday held that a person actively involved in politics, whether or not holding an official post, is not eligible to be appointed as a non-hereditary trustee in temples under the Malabar Devaswom Board. A division bench comprising of Justice Anil K.Narendran and Justice P.G. Ajithkumar was hearing a plea challenging the appointment of certain persons...
The Kerala High Court on Monday held that a person actively involved in politics, whether or not holding an official post, is not eligible to be appointed as a non-hereditary trustee in temples under the Malabar Devaswom Board.
A division bench comprising of Justice Anil K.Narendran and Justice P.G. Ajithkumar was hearing a plea challenging the appointment of certain persons as non-hereditary trustees in Pookkottukalikavu Temple pursuant to the notification of the Malabar Devaswom Board which stated that active politicians or persons holding official posts in any political party were ineligible for appointment to the post. With regard to the notification, the court observed:
“The terms are used disjunctively. So persons who are actively involved in politics, whether or not they hold any post in a political party are ineligible”
The petitioners challenged the appointment of the non-hereditary trustees on two grounds, firstly, that they were office bearers of a political party and secondly that they had criminal cases pending against them.
It was specifically alleged by the petitioner that the 6th respondent was a Local Committee Secretary of C.P.I.(M), Pookkottukavu Unit, and the 7th respondent was a Branch Secretary of Pookkottukavu Centre Branch of C.P.I.(M) and the 8th respondent was the Meghala Secretary of DYFI.
The 6th and 7th respondents took the stand that only after their appointments as trustees did they become office bearers of political parties, and therefore at the time of their appointment they were not disqualified for the post. The 8th respondent however contented that DYFI is not a political party hence him holding the said post did not disqualify him from being appointed as non-hereditary trustee of the temple. The court however did not agree with the contentions of the respondents and held that
“It is a matter of common knowledge that the functioning of a political party and selection/election of its office bearers is not similar to public employment. Whichever be the political party, one who is actively involved in the activities of that political party alone is ordinarily selected/elected as an office bearer. Having been selected as office bearer of the political party/DYFI before or soon after the appointment as non-hereditary trustees, respondent Nos.6 to 8 cannot contend that they were not active politicians. Not much deliberation is required in that regard in order to conclude that respondent Nos.6 and 7 were active politicians and respondent No.8 was an active worker of DYFI even at the time of their making applications for appointment as non-hereditary trustees and also appointment.”
The court also held that the constitution of DYFI makes it evident that its activities are related to the area of politics. It cannot be said that its activities are non- political, the court noted.
"In such circumstances, we are of the view that respondent Nos.6 to 8 were disqualified to be appointed as non-hereditary trustees at the time of their making applications and appointment, on account of their involvement in active politics", the Court observed.
Only worshippers can be trustees
With regard to the alleged criminal antecedents of the trustees, the court observed that the condition prescribed in the notification was “persons who are convicted for more than six months for offences involving moral turpitude are alone ineligible to be non-hereditary trustees.” However, the same notification also specifically prescribes that persons applying for the post “shall be idol worshippers and persons having interest in the advancement of the Temple. They should also be persons used to be involved in the affairs of the Temple.” The court in this regard observed that “a person facing criminal prosecution for an offence involving moral turpitude cannot be considered a true worshipper of that standard required for a person to be appointed as a trustee in a Temple”.
The court held that the respondents 6 to 8, due to their active involvement in politics were disqualified for appointment as non-hereditary trustees of the temple. The court also criticised the Malabar Devaswom Board for not enquiring into the background of the trustees before their appointment, including their criminal history and political activities.
The court however, concluded that the petitioners did not avail other statutory remedies to address their grievance before filing the writ petition. It also noted that there was a long delay in approaching the court. The court refused to quash order appointing the trustees, on account of the expiry of their term as trustees on 20.02.2023.
However, the court directed the Malabar Devaswom Board, to ensure that future appointments to the post of non-hereditary trustee in temples under its control be done strictly in accordance with the observations in the above matter and also in Chathu Achan v. State of Kerala [2022 (6) KLT 388] that had laid down similar guidelines.
Case Title: Anantha Narayanan & Others V Malabar Devaswom Board & Others
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 99
Click here to read/download judgment