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Supreme Court Rejects Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Trust's Plea To Exempt It From Special Audit Of 25 Years

Shruti Kakkar
22 Sep 2021 5:15 AM GMT
Supreme Court Rejects Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Trusts Plea To Exempt It From Special Audit Of 25 Years
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an application filed by the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Trust (which is created by the erstwhile Travancore Royal Family) to exempt it from the special audit of 25 years ordered by theCourt last year for the iconic Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram.The Court said that the special audit was intended not to be confined to the Temple...

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an application filed by the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Trust (which is created by the erstwhile Travancore Royal Family) to exempt it from the special audit of 25 years ordered by theCourt last year for the iconic Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram.

The Court said that the special audit was intended not to be confined to the Temple and included the Trust as well.

As regards the second prayer made by the Trust to exempt it from the administrative supervision of the Administrative Committee constituted for the Temple, the Court said that it requires factual analysis, and hence the issue was left to the consideration of a competent Court. Therefore, the Supreme Court refrained from expressing anything on the second prayer, and left the matter to be decided by a competent court.

The bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela Trivedi on September 17 had reserved orders after hearing the arguments of Senior Advocate Arvind P Datar for the Trust and Senior Advocate R Basant for the Administrative Committee of the Temple.

"We have rejected the first prayer. It is clear that the audit was not intended to be confined to the temple only but also to the trust", Justice Lalit read out the operative portion of the order today in open court. The judge said that the audit was ordered in the light of the report submitted by the Amicus Curiae.

In the light of the report submitted by the Administrative Committee of the Temple, as per which the Temple is going through unprecedented financial crisis and is unable to meet its monthly expenses, the Court has directed the Special Audit of the Trust to be completed preferably within 3 months. The Administrative Committee has said that it is necessary to transfer the income of the Trust to the Temple.

Submissions By Senior Counsels

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar argued that the Trust was not a subject matter of the litigations before the Kerala High Court and civil courts. It was also his contention that the Trust was constituted only to oversee the pujas and rituals of the Temple involving the family, with no role in the administration. He submitted that the Trust came into picture only before the Supreme Court after the amicus curiae demanded that the accounts of the trust also should be audited.

Senior Advocate R Basant, appearing for the Administrative Committee constituted by the Court for the Temple, insisted that the accounts of the trust also need to be audited. He submitted that the Trust had raised a similar argument before the Court earlier. However, they did not press that argument and yielded to the audit initiated by the former CAG.

"Both the accounts have to be audited. The trust is constituted by the then ruler. The aims and objects are to meet the day to day expenses of the temple. It was found by the amicus that this trust was not discharging the duties. The temple properties are with the trust too. The amicus definitely said - audit the accounts of the temple and the temple trust. Both the administrative committee and advisory committee asked them to produce the accounts", Basant submitted.

Basant added, "The temple today is in great financial stress. They (trust) have to meet the day to day expenses of the temple. They are trying to evade responsibility".

Later, Datar clarified that the Trust was not objecting to the audit and was seeking a clarification that it should not be placed under the Administrative Committee.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Facing Unprecedented Financial Crisis; Govt Aid Needed: Administrative Committee To Supreme Court

In a report submitted by the head (District Judge of Thiruvananthapuram P Krishnakumar) of the Administrative Committee before the Top Court, the Committee stated that it has decided to request the trust to transfer its income to the Temple since the Temple has been facing an unprecedented financial crisis and has not been able to meet monthly expenses due to the pandemic.

Submitting that although the temple had requested for financial help from the Government of Kerala, it resulted in futility, the Committee had also raised the demand for a special audit of the Trust by pointing out that as per the Trust Deed, its incomes are to be utilized for the Temple.

The Report in this connection had submitted that the Special Audit Authority appointed by the Supreme Court had flagged various anomalies in the conduct of the Trust.

"The monthly income of the temple is reduced to Rupees Fifty - Sixty lakhs as the Temple has remained closed for over one year due to COVID-19 pandemic. However, it requires at least Rs.1.25 crores for paying salaries of the temple staff and to meet other expenditures for performing rituals and poojas etc. So far, the crisis is managed by utilizing the funds available in various Fixed Deposits and Savings Bank accounts, but the said amount will completely be depleted, if the Temple pays of the salary of next month and the amount due towards gratuity and other dues," the report also stated.

Background

Last year, the Supreme Court had handed over the administration of the temple from the erstwhile Travancore Royal Family to an Administrative Committee headed by the District Judge of Thiruvananthapuram.

Also, the Court had directed the Administrative Committee to order an audit of the temple's income and expenses for the past 25 years, as suggested by amicus curiae Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium. The audit shall be conducted by a firm of reputed Chartered Accountants.

The private CA firm engaged for the audit had asked the Trust to submit the income and expenditure records following this. In this backdrop, the Trust had approached the Supreme Court, arguing that they were an independent institution formed in 1965 to conduct the religious rituals of the temple and that they have no role in the day-to-day administration of the temple.

A bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and Indu Malhotra (since retired) had passed the direction last year in a special leave petition filed by the legal heirs of the ex-Travancore Ruler challenging a Kerala High Court judgment which declared that the royal family has no rights over the temple. The Supreme Court recognized the "shebait" rights of the ex-royal family but handed over the administration to the Administrative Committee, which was to be headed by the District Judge of Thiruvananthapuram. The Court had also directed the temple to repay to the State Government amount to the tune of Rs 11.70 Crores expended by the State for the security and maintenance of the Temple.

Case Title: Sri Marthanda Varma(D) Through LRs v. The State of Kerala | CA No.2732/2021

Click here to read/download the order


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