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Madras HC Rules Against ‘Fit Person-Raj’ In Palani Temple; Calls It A Fraud On Statute [Read Judgment]

first_imgNews UpdatesMadras HC Rules Against ‘Fit Person-Raj’ In Palani Temple; Calls It A Fraud On Statute [Read Judgment] LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK25 Sep 2020 12:45 AMShare This – xThe Madras High Court has held that any policy decision or such decisions that have serious financial implications on a Temple can only be taken by a “duly constituted board of Trustees”. The Bench of Justice GR Swaminathan has clarified that an Executive Officer/ a Fit Person can only act as a “stopgap arrangement” to attend to the “day to day necessities” for a temporary period to…Your free access to Live Law has expiredTo read the article, get a premium account.Your Subscription Supports Independent JournalismSubscription starts from ₹ 599+GST (For 6 Months)View PlansPremium account gives you:Unlimited access to Live Law Archives, Weekly/Monthly Digest, Exclusive Notifications, Comments.Reading experience of Ad Free Version, Petition Copies, Judgement/Order Copies.Subscribe NowAlready a subscriber?LoginThe Madras High Court has held that any policy decision or such decisions that have serious financial implications on a Temple can only be taken by a “duly constituted board of Trustees”. The Bench of Justice GR Swaminathan has clarified that an Executive Officer/ a Fit Person can only act as a “stopgap arrangement” to attend to the “day to day necessities” for a temporary period to tide over certain difficulties or contingencies. The order was passed in a writ petition challenging the tender notification issued by the Executive Officer for providing house-keeping service in the Arulmighu Dhandayuthapani Swami Temple, Palani, and the institutions attached to it. While setting aside this notification, the Court observed: “There should not be any Executive Officer/Fit Person-raj in the second respondent temple. As per Rule 11 of Collection of Income and the Incurring of Expenditure Rules, no expenditure shall be incurred without the written order of the trustee. The trustee shall satisfy himself that the expenditure is necessary and that it has budgetary sanction. The impugned tender notification has considerable financial implications. In the very nature of things, decisions in such matters will have to be taken only by a duly constituted trust board.” Taking exception to the appointment of the Executive Officer as the Fit Person to run the Temple for almost a decade, the Court observed, “When the same official combines in himself both the offices of Executive Officer and Fit Person, the mechanism of checks and balances goes. Executive Officers are appointed so that the trustees do not run amok. But if the Executive Officer himself is also made the fit person so that he can discharge the functions of a trustee, and such a situation continues for years together, it is certainly a fraud on the statute.” Background The petitioner, claiming to be a devotee, had moved the High Court against the impugned tender for engaging a housekeeping staff. He had contended that the devotees are entitled to offer voluntary service known as “Uzhavara pani” but by entrusting the cleaning and maintenance works to outsiders, the temple management had infringed the rights of the devotees. It was further argued that the impugned tender notification was violative of the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 inasmuch as the Temple did not have a regular trust board and the Executive Officer of the temple had been acting as the ex-officio Fit Person. “Such an official cannot take major decisions having financial implications,” the Petitioner had argued. Temple’s Arguments Contesting the maintainability of the writ petition, the Temple had argued that the Petitioner is not an aggrieved individual and if at all he wants to espouse the subject cause, he must file a public interest litigation. It was submitted that the Respondent Temple is a renowned temple thronged by lakhs of devotees. Thus, catering to sanitation, maintenance and cleanliness of the institution was of supreme importance, requiring “systematic deployment of manpower”. In any event, it was submitted, the temple management had permitted performance of voluntary service by the devotees such as cleaning of the dining hall. Lastly it was argued that as on date, the temple did not have a board of trustees and the Fit Person was entitled to discharge the functions of the trust board. Findings The Court first addressed the issue of maintainability and came to a finding that the Petitioner had sufficient standing to maintain the writ petition. It observed: “Article 25 of the Constitution confers the fundamental right to freely practise one’s religion. In the case of Hindus, it would include the right to perform Uzhavara pani. The temple management can of course regulate it, but cannot deny it. The petitioner has thus shown that he has a clear and definite interest in the subject matter of the tender notification and that is sufficient to confer standing on him to maintain this writ petition.” That apart, the Court said, “as a worshipper, the petitioner is also entitled to insist that the affairs of the temple are conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The specific contention of the petitioner is that the second respondent is not entitled to issue the impugned notification. Since the petitioner is a person having interest, it is not necessary that the petitioner should raise these issues only in a public interest litigation.” Further, as stated above, the Court was of the opinion that decisions having financial implications on the Temple can only be taken by a duly constituted Trust. It therefore directed the State Government as well as the controlling authorities to take all possible steps to “ensure that the board of trustees is constituted for the second respondent temple as early as possible.” The Court observed that a vacuum in the Temple administration was created as a consequence of resignation of the Board of Trustees in the year 2011. Since then, the management was overseen by the Executive Officer. Criticizing such an arrangement the Court said, “More than nine years have gone by. The Executive Officer/Fit Person continues to be at the helm of affairs. The authorities have either not found time or felt it necessary to constitute the board of trustees. Such a state of affairs can only be characterised as subversion of the statutory scheme. The question is can the competent authority appoint Fit Person for any religious institution say for five years. The answer is obviously ‘no’. That would be a total subversion of the statutory scheme laid down in the Act.” Reliance was placed on C. Andiappan & Ors. v. Joint Commissioner, Tamil Nadu HR & CE & Ors., 2016-1 L.W 340, where by a Division Bench had held that the appointment of a Fit Person is always contemplated only as a “temporary measure”. Click Here To Download Judgment Read Judgment Next Storylast_img read more

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