Subramanian Swamy moves HC, challenges validity of Pandharpur Temples Act | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Subramanian Swamy moves HC, challenges validity of Pandharpur Temples Act

ByK A Y Dodhiya, Mumbai
Feb 18, 2023 01:40 AM IST

Former Rajya Sabha member and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Bombay high court challenging the constitutional validity of the Pandharpur Temples Act 1973

Former Rajya Sabha member and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Bombay high court challenging the constitutional validity of the Pandharpur Temples Act 1973.

New Delhi :::: 30November2010 ::::: HT News :::::Parliament Session :::::: Former MP Subramanian Swamy during the parliament winter session in New Delhi on Tuesday. HT Photo By Sonu Mehta (Hindustan Times)
New Delhi :::: 30November2010 ::::: HT News :::::Parliament Session :::::: Former MP Subramanian Swamy during the parliament winter session in New Delhi on Tuesday. HT Photo By Sonu Mehta (Hindustan Times)

The Maharashtra government had in 2014 invoked the provisions of the act to take over the administration of Vitthal-Rukmini temples at Pandharpur.

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The petition, which was filed on February 14 by Swamy along with Ghatkopar resident Jagdish Shetty, has alleged that after the arbitrary takeover, the government has been interfering in the discharge of religious and administrative functions of the temples. This is in violation of the right to freedom of religion and of article 14 of the constitution, it said.

The plea is scheduled to come up for hearing on February 21.

Swamy has claimed that as the Supreme Court and other high courts have time and again held that management of religious institutions cannot be taken away from the privileged classes namely the ministrants (Badves) and priests indefinitely, the takeover is against the norms laid down by the constitution. Hence, the government should be directed to hand over the temples’ administration to the authorities concerned, he said.

The petition further said that the Supreme Court and other courts had interpreted article 25 and 26 of the constitution to include setting up and administering religious institutions. The apex court had emphasised that the government could only regulate Hindu religious institutions but could not oust the management, it pointed out.

Referring to section 21 (3) of the Pandharpur Temples Act, the PIL said the board, Shri Vithal-Rukmini Temples Committee appointed by the government to manage the activities, assets, rituals and day-to-day affairs, had effectively acquired “the ancient group of religious institutions belonging to a particular denomination and departmentalisation of the entire Devasthanam for an indefinite period and these section(s) violate articles 25, 26 and 31-A(1)(b) of the constitution.”

The petition also referred to the powers vested with the government-appointed board/committee under section 5(1)(c) of the act to ensure conduct of religious activities and functions within the temples along with overseeing the procedural aspects of worship.

“Such powers are ex-facie beyond the scope of the constitutional mandate of the respondent (state government) since they interfere with the petitioners’ and the Hindus’ right to religion under article 25 of the constitution.”

The petition has also objected to the constitution of the committee, stating that as two members of the legislative council are appointed to the committee headed by the president of the Pandharpur Municipal Council as ex-officio member, the respondent (state government) has completely politicised the religious worship at the temples.

Section 32(2)(a) and 32(2)(b) of the Act permit the committee to conduct daily prayers “which is violative of the rights of millions of devotees and amounts to unconstitutional interference with religious practice whereas article 25 of the constitution only enables the government to regulate financial, economic and secular aspects associated with religious practice”, the plea said.

Considering these aspects and the fact that the amounts received through donations are not used for maintenance of the temples or for the purpose of propagation, but the committee uses them for political benefits, the PIL has sought a court direction to declare the Pandharpur Temples Act unconstitutional and ultra vires (beyond legal power or authority) with various articles of the constitution.

The PIL also sought cessation of the enforceability of the act and constitution of a committee in consultation with priests, representatives of devotees/warkaris, and other stakeholders for appropriate management of the temples as per proper rituals and religious observations, free of any government control.

What is the Pandharpur Temples Act 1973?

The Lords Vithal and Rukmini temples had been managed by priests since their inception and there were other individuals known as ministrants (Badves) who assisted the priests in administering and governing the temples. Due to numerous complaints against the ministrants and their alleged highhandedness, the state government enacted the Pandharpur Temples Act which came into force in 1974. The act gave unbridled and exclusive powers to the government to take over the management of the temples. However, it was invoked only in 2014 and a six-member committee comprising the head of Pandharpur Municipal Council, two MLCs, a woman, and a member each from the schedule caste and scheduled tribe was constituted. The committee has been overseeing not only the administration and governance of the temples but also presiding over the ritualistic practices.

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