15 Oct 2022 9:22 AM GMT
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held that the State's decision to appoint an 'Executive Officer' to control and manage the affairs of Ahobilam Temple in Kurnool is violative of Article 26(d) of the Constitution and affects the Mathadipathis' right of administration. The division bench of Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice DVSS Somayajulu made it clear that the Temple is...
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held that the State's decision to appoint an 'Executive Officer' to control and manage the affairs of Ahobilam Temple in Kurnool is violative of Article 26(d) of the Constitution and affects the Mathadipathis' right of administration.
The division bench of Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice DVSS Somayajulu made it clear that the Temple is an integral part of the Ahobilam Math, which is situated in Tamilnadu.
"Ahobilam Temple is an integral and inseparable part of Ahobilam Math, which was established as a part of propagation of Hindu religion and for rendering spiritual service for propagating Sri Vaishnavism. The successive Jeeyars are the trustees of the Ahobilam Devasthanam and since the Government cannot appoint an Executive Officer for the Ahobilam Math, it has no power to appoint an Executive Officer for the Ahobilam Temple by treating it separate from the Math. Appointing an Executive Officer for Temple, which is a part of the Math, is violative of Article 26(d) of the Constitution of India, as the same affects Jeeyars'/Mathadipathis' right of administration".
It rejected the State's argument that the Temple and the Math are distinct entities. The bench held that merely because the Temple is located in the current State of Andhra Pradesh and the Math is located in the current State of Tamil Nadu, the former does not cease to be a place of religious worship pertaining to the main Math.
In fact, at one point of time, both the Math and the Temple were in the composite State of Madras. "This fact cannot be lost sight of," Court said.
It also found that the historic books, literature and archaeological data show that the temple and math were founded and administered by the Mathadipathis since times immemorial.
Further, no material was placed to show that the activities, traditions, practices, sampradaya of the temple are different from the Math.
"The mere fact that there is no physical proximity is unimportant if there is spiritual/religious or denominational oneness. Even if the Math and Temple are geographically apart if there is oneness or uniformity in the sampradaya, the practices, rituals etc., the temple must be held to be appurtenant to the Math."
The bench said that the general power of supervision and control of Math is not given to the State and its affairs should be sparingly interfered with and on cogent grounds like mismanagement etc.
However, in this case it found that the appointment of Executive Officer was not at all supported by any material which would justify the same.
"The Mathadipathi cannot be reduced to the status of a mere employee or his powers cannot be denuded or taken away by the appointment of an Executive Officer, who will exercise all functions or control.," Court said.
It finally noted that starting from the Endowments Act of 1927 through Acts of 1951, 1959 and 1966 till the Act of 1987, the Temple continued to be under the management of a Mathadipathis, whose nomination did not vest in nor was exercised by the Government
The Petitioners, devotees, had argued that State does not have the authority to appoint the Executive Officer for the Math or Temple as per the AP Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act. They relied upon Chapter V of the Act to submit that the Maths are given a special status and the right to manage their affairs.
It was submitted that the government had itself in 2014 recognized that there is no practice for appointment of a non-hereditary trustees to the temple.
Advocate General S Sriram, appearing on behalf of the government, had argued that Ahobilam Math and the Temple are separate entities.
He submitted that Temple is a place of public religious worship unlike a Math which caters to a certain group or class of people, who are engaged in spiritual services etc. He argued that the Temple in this case gives unrestricted access to the people and the restrictions which are placed under the Act with regard to Math are not applicable to the temple.
The High Court, after hearing both the parties, ordered:
"State of Andhra Pradesh has no authority, jurisdiction or entitlement under law to appoint an Executive Officer of Sri Ahobila Mutt Parampara Aadheena Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Devasthanam (Ahobilam Math Temple)."
Case Title: K.B. SETHURAMAN versus STATE OF A.P.
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (AP) 130
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