While upholding the rights of the erstwhile Royal Family of Travancore as the shebait of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram, the Supreme Court also directed that the powers of 'the Ruler of Travancore' under the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act (TC Act) with respect to temple administration be delegated to the Administrative Committee constituted by the court.
Notably, the proposals regarding the Administrative Committee and the delegation of powers to it came from the family itself.
On November 6, 2014, the appellants in the Supreme Court (legal heirs of Marthanda Varma), submitted a note regarding the constitution of an "Administrative Committee" and an "Advisory Committee".
The note stated that the "Ruler of Travancore" shall "delegate his powers of administration under Section 18(2) of the TC Act to an Administrative Committee which shall administer the Temple through an Executive Officer to be appointed by the Committee".
The family suggested the following composition for Administrative Committee:
- a retired Indian Administrative Service Officer of the rank of Secretary to Government of Kerala ("the State Government") to be nominated by the Trustee in consultation with Government of Kerala who shall be the Chairperson of the Committee;
- one member nominated by the trustee(Travancore family);
- one member nominated by the Government of Kerala;
- one member nominated by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India; and
- the Chief Thantri of the temple.
An Advisory Committee was also suggested with the following composition :
- A retired High Court Judge who shall be nominated by the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court and who shall be the Chairperson of the Committee.
- One eminent person to be nominated by the Trustee;
- A reputed chartered Accountant to be nominated by the Chairperson in consultation with the Trustee.
The SC bench comprising Justices U U Lalit and Indu Malhotra accepted the suggestions given by the erstwhile Royal Family with regard to the constitution of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee to administer and manage the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
The Court termed that the course suggested by the Family "quite balanced and broad based" and "not be loaded in favour or against the Trustee" when compared to the scheme of administration contemplated in the TC Act.
"As against the administration contemplated by Chapter III of Part I of the TC Act in the hands of the Ruler of Travancore in absolute terms, the course now suggested by the appellants is quite balanced", the bench observed.
As per Section 18(1) of the TC Act, the administration of the temple, its properties and funds vested in trust in the 'Ruler of Travancore'. Under Section 18(2), the administration should be conducted "Subject to the control and supervision of the Ruler of Travancore, by an Executive Officer appointed by him." Also, "Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple Committee" composed of three members nominated by the Ruler of Travancore in terms of Section 20 is to advise the Ruler of Travancore in the discharge of his functions.
However, the Court suggested a modification - instead of IAS officer in the rank of Government Secretray to be nominated by the family, the Court said that the District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram should be the Chairperson of the Committee.
The Court also ordered that the powers of the "Ruler of Travancore" under Section 18(2) will stand delegated to the Administrative Committee.
In this regard, the court said:
"We, therefore, accept the suggestions made by the appellants in their Note adverted to in detail in paragraph 47 hereinabove with regard to the constitution of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee subject to the modification with respect to the Chairperson of the Administrative Committee as stated in the preceding paragraph"
In terms of the Note submitted by the appellants the powers of "the Ruler of Travancore" under Section 18(2) of the TC Act shall stand delegated to the Administrative Committee while the Advisory Committee shall be deemed to be the Committee constituted in terms of Section 20 of the TC Act. It is made clear that all the members including the Chairpersons of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee must be Hindus and fulfil the requirements in Section 2(aa) of the TC Act.
So the Administrative Committee, as directed by the Supreme Court, will contain the following members
- District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram
- One member nominated by the trustee;
- One member nominated by the Government of Kerala;
- One member nominated by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India; and
- Chief Thantri of the temple.
The Court also clarified that all the members including the Chairpersons of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee must be Hindus and fulfil the requirements in Section 2(aa) of the TC Act.
The Court also, taking into account the specific submission made by the Family, said that they shall not be entitled to draw any remuneration for his or their services as the Manager or Trustee. The Executive Officer appointed by the Administrative Committee shall be entitled to a modest and reasonable remuneration to be fixed by the Administrative Committee, it added.
The Court proceeded on the premise that the temple is a "public temple".
Padmanabha Swamy Temple : Administrative/Advisory Committees To Consider Whether 'Kallara B' Should Be Opened; SC Refuses To Decide Controversial Issue
The Court has directed the appellant to file an affidavit of undertaking regarding the delegation of powers to the Administrative Committee and accepting the modification of its composition. The affidavit of undertaking will be binding on the successors of the appellants, the Court clarified.
The court also said that the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee shall perform the following functions
(a) Preserve all treasures and properties endowed to Sree Padmanabhaswamy and those belonging to the Temple.
(b) Protect all tenanted properties and take appropriate measures to ensure reasonable returns from such tenanted properties.
(c) Ensure that all rituals and religious practices are performed in accordance with the instructions and guidance of the Chief Thantri of the Temple and according to custom and traditions. In temporal matters, the Committees shall be guided by the advice given by the Chief Thanthri. The designation of the Chief Thanthri shall be done in accordance with the customs and traditions.
(d) Shall take appropriate steps to return to the State the amounts expended by the State Government as catalogued in the Chart in paragraph No.44 hereinabove (Rs 11,70,11,000).
(e) All the income accruing to the Temple, as well as the offerings made by the worshippers, shall be expended in the following manner: (i) To improve the facilities for the worshippers; and (ii) For such religious and charitable purposes as the Advisory Committee may deem appropriate; and (iii) In investments that will fetch reasonable returns and ensure that the properties of the Temple are completely safe and secure.
(f) Recover and retrieve any property or funds of the Temple which have been put to misuse or have been in unauthorized occupation or misappropriated.
(g) Shall order audit for the last 25 years as suggested by the learned Amicus Curiae. The audit shall be conducted by a firm of reputed Chartered Accountants. The Advisory Committee shall also consider what further steps need to be taken for the preservation of the Temple properties, both movable and immovable.
(h) Take appropriate steps for conservation of the Temple and its precincts, as well as for improvement of all the facilities.
(i) Shall consider whether Kallara B is to be opened for the purpose of inventorization. The interim orders dated 27.11.2014 and 04.07.2017 passed by this Court had recorded that Kallara B was not opened, and it was directed that inventorization with respect to said Kallara B be undertaken only after obtaining express orders from this Court. We deem it appropriate to leave this issue to the best judgement and discretion of the Committees.
(j) Conduct all the obligations which from time to time were bestowed on various Committees by this Court including that of the Selection Committee for Sreekovil.
(k) Shall file Reports in this Court by the second week of December, 2020 stating all the developments in brief till then. The next Report shall be filed after the accounts for the year ending 31.03.2021 are audited.
(l) Shall file the audited accounts and the Balance Sheet with the office of the Accountant General for the State, every year.