The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, lamented the attitude of the States towards preservation of the country’s cultural heritage and observed, “Before parting, we consider it apposite to state that several cases of this nature have come to our notice which are either pending in courts or they remain unnoticed. Unfortunately, it appears that the State did not take up such cases seriously nor has taken any steps to preserve, control and manage effectively such priceless heritage culture of our country with the result, the precious heritage of our country is being misused by handful of private persons for their personal benefits.”
The observation was made by a Bench comprising Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre while deciding an Appeal concerning the ownership of the Mandir Sri Laxman Sidh Maharaj and the land surrounding it.
The Appeal challenged an order passed by the Uttarakhand High Court in 2007, wherein it had upheld a Trial Court order declaring one Mr. Bharat Bhushan Bharati as the owner of the temple and the adjoining land by adverse possession. Mr. Bharati claimed to be the “Mahant” and “Manager” of the temple which was surrounded by 5 acres of thick forest. The original suit came to be filed after the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) objected to the repair work which was being carried out in the temple and the Dharmshala.
The Trial Court had partially decreed the suit, declaring Mr. Bharati as the owner of the land, except for one well, over which he was given easementary rights to draw water. The Court had further issued a permanent injunction against the State and its authorities from interfering with the construction work being carried out. An Appeal against this order was rejected by the High Court as well.
The Apex Court, however, opined that the suit filed by the temple was “wholly misconceived and was nothing but it was abusing the process of law”.
The Court also rapped the Trial Court and the High Court, observing, “At the outset, we are constrained to express our total displeasure on the casual manner in which both, the Trial Court and the High Court, decided the suit and the appeal. If we may say so, it only shows total non-application of their judicial mind while deciding the case. It will be clear from the discussion made hereinbelow.”
The Court opined that the plaint lacked necessary material pleadings and particulars for claiming a declaration of title over the suit property (temple and land) and permanent injunction. Besides, it also noted that Mr. Bharati had not produced any documentary evidence to prove his legal ownership rights over the temple and the land.
It held, “In the light of foregoing discussion, we have no hesitation to hold that the filing of the suit by the plaintiff was wholly misconceived and was nothing but it was abusing the process of law. In any event, we also hold that the plaintiff was neither in possession of the suit property much less in its legal possession nor he had any authority to remain in its possession for want of any lawful authority. The plaintiff thus has failed in every respect.”
The Apex Court, therefore, allowed the Appeal and set aside the judgments of the lower Courts. It, further, directed Mr. Bharti to deposit cost of Rs. 25,000 with the State Legal Services Office, and cautioned the State, observing, “We hope that the State (appellant herein) would pay serious attention not confining to the temple in question but to several alike and take suitable measures as may deem fit and proper after taking into account the pattern followed by other States in such type of cases, if any, and relevant provisions of the Acts applicable to such structures for the benefit of public at large so that heritage of our country is preserved, managed and controlled in letter and spirit for coming generations.”