After sexual allegations: Lingayat body looks to name new mutt pontiff

Updated on Sep 30, 2022 01:45 AM IST

The meeting at S Nijalingappa memorial premises was chaired by former minister H Ekanthaiah and attended by over 1,500 members of the community.

Shivamurthy Muruga Sharanaru is in prison in a sexual assault case. (HT Photo)
Shivamurthy Muruga Sharanaru is in prison in a sexual assault case. (HT Photo)
ByCoovercolly Indresh, Chitradurga

The members of Veerashaiva Lingayat community and followers of Jagadguru Murugarajendra Vidyapeetha Mutt in Chitradurga have decided to move Karnataka high court, seeking appointment of a new pontiff as its current pontiff, Shivamurthy Muruga Sharanaru, is in prison in a sexual assault case, community leaders said on Thursday.

The decision to approach the court was taken at a meeting on Thursday amid concerns that salaries of over 3,500 staff members across educational institutions run by the mutt remained undistributed since August.

The meeting at S Nijalingappa memorial premises was chaired by former minister H Ekanthaiah and attended by over 1,500 members of the community.

“The community leaders raised concerns as over 3,500 staff members across more than 150 educational institutions run by the mutt have not received any salary since August,” Ekanthaiah told HT. Meanwhile, mutt administrator Vastradmat said that the mutt had filed appeal in Karnataka high court to grant the power to sign the cheques to the seer.

Mutt administrator Vastradmat told HT that they have filed an appeal in the high court to allow the seer to sign cheques from the prison for release of funds.

Sharanaru was arrested on September 1 after two girls studying in a school and residing in a hostel run by the mutt accused him of sexual assault. He was arrested a week after an FIR was registered, as police and the state government faced criticism for alleged inaction in the case.

The mutt wields considerable influence in the state and is believed to possess assets in excess of 200 crore.

The accused has been booked under Indian Penal Code, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and is currently in judicial custody. Four of his associates have also been booked under similar charges and are in custody.

According to people aware of the developments, the seer has refused to step down from the post of the pontiff. The people also pointed out that it is for the first time in the mutt’s 300-year history that its head seer is facing criminal charges.

The high court is already hearing a plea of the seer, seeking permission to sign cheques and documents from the prison for release of funds.

Initially on September 21, the seer’s lawyer, Sandeep Patil, had approached Chitradurga sessions court. He argued that the seer’s signature was necessary to release the salaries of around 3,500 employees of SJM Vidyapeeth, a chain of educational institutions run by the mutt.

The sessions court, however, denied permission and issued an order on September 20, restricting the same.

Opposing the appeal, public prosecutor M Nagaveni argued that if the court grants permission to sign the documents in prison, there may be a possibility of misappropriation of property and assets belonging to the mutt.

An interim administrator has already been appointed for the institution, the public prosecutor said, adding head seer’s signatures are not required.

After the sessions court rejected the appeal, the seer moved the high court.

On Wednesday, the high court observed that no staff should be forced to fast because of the ongoing issues in the mutt and directed Patil to submit a memorandum with details on payment of salaries. The details were subsequently submitted.

However, on Thursday, the court said there was no clarity in the seer’s request as he wanted to sign the cheques to pay the salaries of the employees, but the plea to sign cheques in jail, it found, was odd as all the cheques were to “pay self”. The case was adjourned to Friday.

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