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"Principles Of Natural Justice Affected": Madras High Court Sets Aside HR&CE Order Taking Over Ayodhya Mandapam

Upasana Sajeev
27 April 2022 11:00 AM GMT
Principles Of Natural Justice Affected: Madras High Court Sets Aside HR&CE Order Taking Over Ayodhya Mandapam
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The Madras High Court on Wednesday set aside the order of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department for taking over the administration of Ayodhya Mandapam and for appointing a "Fit Person" to look into the administration of the Samaj.The bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy further set aside the order passed by the Single...

The Madras High Court on Wednesday set aside the order of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department for taking over the administration of Ayodhya Mandapam and for appointing a "Fit Person" to look into the administration of the Samaj.

The bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy further set aside the order passed by the Single Judge dismissing the writ petition filed by the Ram Samaj citing alternative remedies.

The court directed the department to handover the administration of the Ayodhya Mandapam to the Samaj along with all the records. The court further gave liberty to the department to conduct a fresh enquiry and proceed in the manner afresh after following the due procedure of law.

The court also directed the appellant Samaj to maintain the books of accounts after proper audit. The Samaj was also directed to carry out all its transactions through banks so that all the transactions are accounted for and can be called for if required.

The court opined that the single judge had not considered the merits of the case and merely dismissed the petition citing existence of alternative remedies. According to the court, in exceptional circumstances, the court has jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution to entertain a petition even when alternative remedies are available. In the present case, what was challenged by the Samaj was the manner in which the order was passed by the department. 

The court also opined that the HR&CE order was passed without following the procedures of natural justice. The notice sent by the Department did not disclose the details of the allegations levelled against the Samaj. Further, no opportunity of hearing was given to the appellant Samaj. The department passed the orders merely stating that the Samaj was a public temple as per Section 6(20) of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 as it fulfilled the conditions stated in the Act. The Department had failed to look into the objectives of the Samaj and other activities carried out by the Samaj.

The court further stated that even going by the statement of the Advocate General that the educational institution and the marriage halls under the Samaj were unaffected by the takeover, it is clear that the Samaj was conducting other activities also.

Background

The court passed the orders on an appeal preferred by Sri Ram Samaj, against the order of a single judge dismissing the writ petition filed in 2014 against the takeover of the Ayodhya Mandapam by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) and appointing a "Fit Person" to take over the administration of the temple.

It was contended that Ayodhya Mandapam was not a temple and people were not worshipping in the Samaj. They further contended that it is a society registered under the Society Registration Act and does not come within the definition of Temple under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959.

The Single Judge, after hearing both the parties opined that the primary dispute was whether the Samaj is a public temple or not. After observing that the court could not decide upon this disputed question of fact, the court dismissed the petition citing alternative remedies.

When the matter was taken up yesterday, the first division bench had criticised the approach of the single judge dismissing the plea on preliminary objections, after passage of eight years.

Case Title: Sri Ram Samaj v. The Commissioner and Others
Case No: WA No. 1057 of 2022
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 182
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