Banke Bihari Temple Revamp Plan| Protect Ancient Temples In the Vicinity, Provide Expenditure Details: Allahabad HC To UP Govt
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The Allahabad High Court has directed the Uttar Pradesh Government to protect the ancient temples situated in the vicinity of the Banke Bihari temple (in Mathura-Vrindavan) while implementing its proposed plan to redevelop the temple area.
The UP government has also been directed to not disturb the rights of the Sewayats for Sewa of Thakur Shri Bankey Bihari Ji Maharaj in the process of development of the area around the temple.
The bench of Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice J. J. Munir further sought a detailed plan from the State Government with estimated expenditure for the purchase of land or development of the area around the temple.
The Court passed this order while dealing with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) plea filed before it pertaining to the preparation of a proper scheme for the management and upkeep of Shri Thakur Banke Bihari Ji Maharaj Temple in Mathura.
The background of the issue
For the uninitiated, Bankey Bihari Temple is situated in Vrindavan, Mathura and it is dedicated to Bankey Bihari who is believed to be the combined form of Radha and Krishna. This temple was established by Swami Haridas.
It may further be noted that the Goswamis of the Saraswat Brahmin community have the right to serve in Thakur Banke Bihari temple. They perform Puja-Archana and shringar in the temple and are called Sevayats.
Now, in October 2022, during the course of the hearing of the matter, the Uttar Pradesh Government submitted before the High Court that it was coming up with a scheme for the development of the temple area and its proper management.
The state government also submitted that it proposes to constitute a trust having eleven nominated members, which include two from the Goswamis in addition to six ex-officio members and one appointed by the State.
Though the State Government clarified that it was not planning to interfere in the puja-archana or shringar carried out by the Goswamis and that whatever rights they have, would continue to vest in them, the Sevayats voiced their objection about the involvement of officers of local administration in the rights and policy regarding the other matters.
In fact, the Goswamis/Sevayats made their objection apparent before the Court by making a specific plea that since the Banke Bihari Temple is a private temple, no external interference should be allowed. They also submitted that the fund lying in the account of the Deity in the Temple should not be utilized for the purchase of five acres of land around the Temple, as proposed by the State.
Read more about what the Sevayats submitted before the Court, here: 'Sevayats' Object To Local Administration's Involvement In Mathura's Banke Bihari Temple Affairs: Allahabad HC Seeks UP Govt's Reply
Apart from making the aforementioned submissions, they also prayed before the Court that the scheme/proposal of the State Government be examined by a retired Judge of the High Court before consideration by the Court.
High Court's observations and orders
Hearing the case on November 30, the High Court, while taking into account the concerns of the Sevayats, appointed former Judge of the High Court, Justice Sudhir Narain Agarwal to examine the proposed/draft plan of the Uttar Pradesh Government. The report was submitted before the HC earlier this week.
Now, on December 20, along with the report, certain plans prepared by the State for the development of the area around the temple was also placed before the Court.
Perusing the same, the Court noted that the proposed plans do not disturb the existing temple, however, the Court did ask the state to ensure that the ancient temples, which will come within the 5 acres of surrounding land proposed to be developed along with Thakur Shri Bankey Bihari Ji Maharaj Temple, be protected.
Further, when the issue regarding ₹250 Crores (lying in the account of Thakur Shri Bankey Bihari Ji Maharaj Temple) came up before the Court, the Court noted that the entire land which will be purchased in the vicinity of the Temple will be registered in the name of the Deity. However, before examining the prayer for utilization of the funds lying in the account of the Deity, the Court sought a detailed plan with estimated expenditure for the purchase of land or development of the area around the temple be placed before Court.
Lastly, regarding the reservation of the Goswami's [ertaining to the constitution of the Trust for the management of the temple, the Court said that the issue will require further consideration by the Court unless the same is resolved by the parties. With this, the Case was adjourned to January 17, 2023.
Case title - Anant Sharma and another vs. State of U.P. and others [PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (PIL) No. - 1509 of 2022]