Little impact on other religion cases: Experts after Kerala temple verdict
The Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act (TC Act) provides that the administration of the Padmanabhaswamy temple and all other properties and funds of the temple be vested with the ruler of Travancore.Updated: Jul 14, 2020 01:43 IST
The impact of the Supreme Court judgment in the Padmanabhaswamy temple case on other cases relating to Shebait or religious rights may be limited because the ruling is based on the existence of a 1950 law enacted by the state of Travancore-Cochin, which was the precursor to the Kerala state, legal experts told HT.
The Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act (TC Act), more specifically Section 18 (2) of the act, provides that the administration of the Padmanabhaswamy temple and all other properties and funds of the temple be vested with the ruler of Travancore.
“The right under Section 18 (2) of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950, is specific to the covenants entered in this particular case. The question was whether it extended to the ‘ruler’ alone or his successors as well, for which the high court answered in the negative while the Supreme Court in the affirmative. No proposition of law in rem (applicable in general) was laid down in either of the judgments,” Supreme Court advocate Sriram Parakkat said.
“The impact of this judgment would be limited to such cases where there are specific laws providing for religious/ shebait rights,” he added.
The repeal of that law from the statute book by the state legislature, however, can lead to the termination of Shebait rights of the royal family. The rights will be operative “as long as appropriate steps are not taken by the concerned legislature”, the court made it clear in paragraph 90 of its judgment.
Besides this law, agreement of accession or the covenant signed between the ruler of Travancore and Government of India in 1949 by which Travancore became a part of the Indian union, also provided that the administration of the temple will be vested with the ruler of Travancore.
Article 362 of the Constitution stipulated that such covenants and agreements should be given due consideration by the central and state legislatures while making laws. However, Article 362 was repealed in 1971 by Parliament through the 26th Amendment, putting a question mark on whether the rights of the ruler under the covenant would still be valid.
The court held that since there is a law, TC Act, specifically backing the Shebait rights, the Shebait rights would continue with the royal family even though Article 362 was repealed.
This is because the source for enjoyment of personal rights, privileges and dignities referred to in Article 362 would be in the statutory provisions enacted in terms of the obligation spelt out in Article 362 – in this case the TC Act -- the court said.
“The court has held that vested rights under a succession treaty remains preserved if protected under a state law, notwithstanding the 26th Amendment,” Supreme Court advocate Vipin Nair who represented a few devotees before the Supreme Court said.
However, advocate V Shyamohan, who represented the royal family, argued that the judgment recognises the centuries-old rights of “Padmanabha Dasa” as the hereditary trustee of the temple and protects the faith and beliefs of millions of devotees.
“Every ruler of Travancore is engaged in the service of Sri Padmanabhaswamy, and are known as Padmanabha Dasas. Under Hindu Law, the property stands vested in the idol and not shebait. Shebaitship is inherent in the founder and unless a contrary custom exists, it is a heritable right,” he said.