Uttarakhand HC reserves judgement in PIL against govt takeover of Char Dham, 51 other temples
Kartikey Hari Gupta, the counsel representing intervenor, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), in the matter that is supporting the state government’s stand, said the court over the past week had heard all the parties concerned and reserved its judgment in the matter.Updated: Jul 07, 2020 20:36 IST
Uttarakhand high court (HC) on Monday reserved its judgment in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy against the state government’s takeover of the Char Dhams and 51 other temples in the hill state by invoking the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019, said counsel Manisha Bhandari, who appeared in the matter along with petitioner Swamy.
Kartikey Hari Gupta, the counsel representing intervenor, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), in the matter that is supporting the state government’s stand, said the court over the past week had heard all the parties concerned and reserved its judgment in the matter.
The PIL had challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019, by which the administration and control of major Hindu religious institutions have been taken over by the Uttarakhand government or by any authority functioning under the state government.
Last December, the Uttarakhand assembly had passed the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board Bill.
In January, Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya gave her assent for the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019.
Aggrieved priests had threatened that they would move the HC against the Act, as they claimed to have been kept in the dark about the new law.
They had alleged that the government took the step to ensure its control over shrine-related issues, bypassing the powerful priest community.
On February 10, a four-member delegation of the state’s priest body met Swamy and submitted documents that were required to file a PIL along with a copy of the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019.
Soon, Swamy filed the PIL against the formation of the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board and the resultant Act.
Gupta said he argued in favour of the state government’s decision and presented various historical and legal documents before the court.
He said the Act does not interfere in the matter of religion, it only regulates the temporal functions associated with matters of faith, as far as these shrines are concerned.
“The administration of these temples was made by the then HC bench of Kumaon in 1899, which had separated the religious and temporal affairs. The 1939 Act for the management of these temples records that the law was needed due to the mismanagement of temples and also to alleviate pilgrims’ plight. The new Act has been passed to further that objective and it is valid,” he said.
Gupta cited that the shrines’ mismanagement led to a separation of religious and temporal functions.
“Irish lawyer Edwin T. Atkinson has recorded this fact of gross mismanagement of temples in the Himalayan Gazetteer published in 1884. The Supreme Court in its Ayodhya Ram Mandir judgement last November had also held that gazetteers are key evidence that courts can rely on,” he added.
Gupta said he apprised the HC that “Manusmiriti, which is the ancient text for Hindu laws, in its Chapter 7 lays down that it is the choice of the King as to whom he wants to keep a priest and all rites and sacrifices in temples are performed by priests on his behalf. Thus, priests have no inherent right to manage temples. Scholar and educational reformer Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1933 had also published a book appealing to the public to hand over the management of temples for their better upkeep.”