CHENNAI: Stating that the Ayodhya Mandapam cannot be brought under the definition of a temple, and finding procedural lapses in the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department’s order to take control of it, the Madras High Court on Wednesday struck down the 2013 order, and directed the department to hand it back to Sri Ram Samaj immediately.
However, the court allowed the department to initiate a fresh inquiry into alleged irregularities at the mandapam and proceed further. The first bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy pronounced the verdict on an appeal preferred by the Samaj against the orders of the HR&CE department and a single judge of the HC. The single judge had dismissed a writ petition of the Samaj challenging the order appointing a “Fit Person” to manage the hall’s affairs.
The bench pointed out that the department had failed to prove the charges of worship being conducted at the hall by the installation of idols and collection of funds. The mandapam, managed by the Samaj which is registered under the Societies Act, cannot be brought under the definition of temples. The bench pointed out a Fit Person can only be appointed only in the case of temples.
It further noted that the department had dropped the action after holding a probe on the allegations made by the same person in 2004 but proceeded to act upon them in 2013, and observed that the 2013 order was passed without following “due procedures of natural justice”. Setting aside the order of the single judge, the bench said it was not proper to dismiss the Samaj’s petition on the grounds of availability of an alternative remedy, and noted the single judge had not considered the merits of the case.
Even if an alternative remedy is available, the court can consider such petitions, in exceptional circumstances, as per the jurisdiction provided under Article 226 of the Constitution, it noted. The department is allowed to start a fresh inquiry by following the procedures of issuing show cause notice listing the allegations, and it has to prove them with substantive materials and proceed further, the HC said. The Samaj was directed to keep its records clean by auditing the accounts and opting for financial transactions through a bank.
Charge not proved
HC said HR&CE failed to prove the charges of worship being held at the hall by the installation of idols and collection of funds. The mandapam, managed by the Samaj, which is registered under the Societies Act, cannot be brought under the definition of temples