2 Sep 2023 4:24 AM GMT
The Supreme Court recently sought the response of the state of Tamil Nadu regarding transfer of temple Archaka(pujair/priest) from one Agamic Temple to another Agamic Temple and the role required to be played by the appointing authority, in the absence of an elected trustee.A bench Justice M.M. Sundresh And Justice J.B. Pardiwala issued notice in a plea challenging the order of the Madras...
The Supreme Court recently sought the response of the state of Tamil Nadu regarding transfer of temple Archaka(pujair/priest) from one Agamic Temple to another Agamic Temple and the role required to be played by the appointing authority, in the absence of an elected trustee.
A bench Justice M.M. Sundresh And Justice J.B. Pardiwala issued notice in a plea challenging the order of the Madras High Court that had exempted temples constructed as per agamas from the rules brought by the Tamil Nadu Government in 2020 in relation to the qualifications and appointments of archakas/poojaris.
The plea before the Apex Court raised an issue with the observation of the High Court regarding transfer of temple employees from one Agamic Temple to another Agamic Temple. The petitioner contented that this finding needs to be modified since each temple is distinct and has its own customs, usages and practices.
The Madras High Court had held that Archakas can be transferred but only to temples governed by agamas. In relation to Rule 17, which dealt with the transfer of temple employees, the High Court had held:
"For the sake of clarity, we would state that necessary protection given under Article 26 of the Constitution of India would be maintained and thereby the transfer of the Archakas would not be permissible unless it is a case of transfer of Archaka of the temple governed by a particular Agama to a temple governed by same Agama"
The other issue raised in the plea before the Apex Court was with respect to the role played by the appointing authority, in the absence of an elected trustee. The Petitioner in this regard contended that after the expiry of the tenure of the trustees, and when there is no elected trustee to take his place, there is a possibility of the executive officer/fit person taking on the role for an extended period without making the effort to make further appointments.
With respect to the term 'appointing authority', the High Court had held that the definition did not violate any constitutional provision. Even though the power of appointment was with the trustees, in their absence, the affairs had to be looked after by someone, the High Court had held:
"It is no doubt true that the right to make appointment of the Archakas lies with the trustees, but this court cannot be oblivious to the fact that in the absence of the trustees, the affairs of the temple have to be looked after by someone. Only in the absence of trustees or for any reason given in Section 49 of the Act of 1959, a fit person is appointed to exercise the power of trustees. Hence, we do not find that the definition of the term "appointing authority" given under Rule 2(c) of the Rules of 2020 offends the constitutional provision or the Act of 1959."
Senior Advocate Guru Krishnakumar appeared for the petitioner.
In August 2022, the Madras High Court had exempted temples constructed as per agamas from the rules brought by the Tamil Nadu Government in 2020 in relation to the qualifications and appointments of archakas/poojaris.
A division bench of the High Court had read down Rules 7 and 9 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020 to hold that they will not apply to temples constructed as per agamas.
Rule 7 prescribed the qualification for archakas and other temple employees and Rule 9 dealt with the process for direct recruitment. As per these Rules, qualification of one year certificate course has been prescribed for Archaka and even if an Archaka has been performing pooja for past many years, he is not eligible for appointment in the absence of the certification under the Rules.
The High Court had said that reading down of the said Rules were necessary so as to exempt temples constructed as per agamas. Otherwise, it would offend the fundamental rights to practice religion and the rights of a religious denomination to manage its affairs guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The Court however refrained from striking down the said Rules in their entirety, as they dealt with other appointments as well.
Case Title: Case Title: Srirangam Koil Miras Kainkaryaparagal Matrum Athanai Sarntha Koilgalin Miraskainkaryaparargalin Nalasangam V. The State Of Tamil Nadu & Ors.
Click here to read/download order