The Kerala High Court on Friday directed the Registry to place a batch of petitions, raising doubts as to whether the Managing Committee of the Guruvayoor Temple can make donations for non-religious purposes, before the Chief Justice for consideration by a larger bench.
A division bench of Justice Shaji P. Chaly and Justice MR Anitha was hearing a batch of PILs filed by Hindu devotees against the donation of an amount of Rs. 5 crores made by the Committee of the Guruvayoor Devaswom to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund, on May 5, 2020, in view of the COVID-19 situation.
The primary contention raised by all the Petitioners was that in terms of Sections 11, 12 and 27 of the Guruvayoor Devaswom Act, 1978, the Committee does not have power to divert the fund of the Temple, other than for religious activities of Guruvayoor Sreekrishna Temple.
The matter has however been referred to a larger bench in view of two conflicting judgments on this subject, rendered by the Kerala High Court.
In one judgment, CK Rajan v. State AIR 1994 Kerala 179, a Division Bench of the High Court had held that notwithstanding that donation worth Rs. 5 lakh was made to the CM's Distress Relief Fund for "laudable purposes", the same was unauthorized as Section 27 of the Act does not authorize the Managing Committee to make such payments.
The said judgment was upheld by the Apex Court in Guruvayoor Devaswom Managing Committee v. Rajan, 2003(3) KLT 618 (SC).
In another conflicting judgment, Anil V. v. State of Kerala & Ors., WP (C) No. 19035/2019, a division bench upheld the donation of Rs. 5 crore made during the 2019 floods.
It was held therein that the Managing Committee of the Devaswom may, after making adequate provision for the purposes referred to Section 21(2), incur expenditure out of the funds for all or any of the purposes mentioned under clauses (a) to (g) therein and the provisions under Section 27 would not be understood to carry an interdiction so as to invalidate the action in making donation to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund.
The conflict in the two judgments was recently bought to the notice of a Division Bench while hearing a petition titled Bijesh Kumar M. v. State of Kerala & Ors. WP (C) No. 20495/2019, which then referred the issue to a larger bench.
Accordingly, the present batch of PILs has also been referred to the larger bench.
"We are of the considered opinion that all the writ petitions are to be heard along with the referred matter. Therefore, the registry is directed to place the writ petitions before Hon'ble the Chief Justice for appropriate orders. Needless to say, the donation given will be subject to the result of these writ petitions," the bench ordered.
In the interregnum, the Temple Committee has submitted that it does not intend to donate any further amount to the CM's Distress Relief Fund for the time being.
Case Title: A. Nagesh v. State of Kerala & Ors. (and other connected petitions)
Case No.: WP (C) No. 9765/2020
Quorum: Justice Shaji P. Chaly and Justice MR Anitha
Appearance: Advocates Rajesh Chakyat, Sajith Kumar V, Dr. V.N. Sankarjee, R. Krishnaraj, V.Shyamohan And Vishnu Prasad Nair (For Petitioners); Advocate TK Vipindas (for Guruvayur Devaswom Board); Advocate Bimal K. Nath (for Sr. Government Pleader)
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