The Supreme Court on January 22, 2024 issued a notice to Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and 38 MLAs supporting him on Shiv Sena (UBT)’s plea challenging Speaker Narwekar’s January 10, 2024 order.
Mismanagement of temples: The Supreme Court on Thursday said the PIL alleging mismanagement of temples regulated under the state administration or misappropriation of funds collected over there, should bring some concrete proof on record, instead of bare averments.
Senior advocates Arvind Datar and Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing the petitioner, advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, submitted they have challenged the validity of Religious Endowment Acts of five states and regulations should not be only of Hindu places. Either regulate all or no regulation for Hindus should be there, they said.
Datar argued these regulations violated fundamental rights, particularly Article 25 and 26 B, of the Constitution, which gave the rights to manage the properties.
Supreme Court on Mismanagement of temples
A bench of Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat said there exists a 150-year-old history and the places of worship have catered to larger needs of society and not their own purpose only, pointing out that some temples have even given their lands for public purposes.
“You are asking us to roll back the clock?” it asked counsel.
Citing the example of Tirupati, where there are universities and also state enterprises and the scale of offering at Tirupati and Shirdi is colossal, it asked if counsel is suggesting that these should be out of any pale of regulation.
Citing an example from Karnataka, Sankaranarayanan claimed 15,000 temples have been closed down since they could not pay to the staff and land belonging to the temples is being frittered away. The bench asked the counsel to bring on record official records in support of his charges of closing down thousands of temples.
The bench said temples have functioned in a particular way, and they have not aggrandised all the wealth or thousands of acres of lands to themselves.
“There has to be some framework for use of money,” it said, adding that it will not take into consideration sweeping statements. “We need to have concrete examples.”
Petitioner’s contention about Mismanagement of temples
On petitioner’s contention asking the court to legislate, the bench said: “You are saying nobody will account the wealth and you will be centres of power.”
It further added that other religions may have their own checks and balances and urged counsel to show proof of mismanagement or misappropriation of funds, instead of making bare averments.
As senior advocate Aman Sinha, representing Swami Jeetendranand Saraswatee, argued there were instances of misappropriation of funds, the bench queried that if he has made those accused of misappropriation as parties to the petition. The petitioners sought time to file additional documents.
The top court also gave two weeks’ to Upadhyay’s counsel to file additional documents. It posted the case for hearing on September 19.
The top court was hearing a PIL seeking unhindered rights to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists to manage their religious places similarly like Christians and Muslims.