DEHRADUN: Bhartiya Janta Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy filed a public interest litigation in Uttarakhand High Court on Monday opposing a newly framed law to govern Char Dham and 51 other temples of the state.
He requested the court to declare the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019 'unconstitutional' which was passed in the legislative assembly in December 2019.
Swamy, in his petition said, "The actions of the state government make a mockery of the constitutional principles and abuse of the legal process and statuary power and vitiated by malafide and extraneous considerations."
Interestingly, Uttarakhand is governed by the BJP which won 57 seats in 2017 state assembly elections.
Manisha Bhandari, counsel for the petitioner said, "The law in question, apart from failing to interpret and move with the devolving nature of law, has also failed in understanding the gravity of the issue of faith and belief which is enshrined in the basic structure of the Constitution, the Preamble. We hope the honourable court will consider our pleas in the matter."
The law is already being opposed by priests of the Char Dham and other temples citing that the government has conspired a story to take away their traditional rights.
The priests have met the BJP leader and had requested him to pursue their case in court.
The petition stated that the present law is "practically state acquisition of an ancient group of religious institutions belonging to a particular religious denomination and departmentalization of the entire Devasthanam for an indefinite period."
"Under the guise of the power vested in the legislature, a law, which permits an unlimited deprivation cannot indeed be said to be either reasonable restriction or a valid exercise of a power intended solely for the regulation of the administration of the properties of the temple. An abrogation of a right by a law is not a regulation by it. It is annihilation and not regulation," said the PIL.
Swamy further alleged in the petition that the provisions that permit takeover and control of Hindu religious institutions for an indefinite period and provide for removal of the management and vesting them in secular or other authorities to be nominated or appointed by the various state governments are thus violative of the principle of takeover of management of property for a limited period.
"They are in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens and denominations including Hindu Citizens and denominations under Articles 25, 26 and 29(1) of the Constitution of India. These provisions also violate Articles 13 and 14 and are violative of the dicta pronounced in the above-cited judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court," Swamy alleged in the petition.
The petition also stated that under the cloak of sanction to administer under such legislation, Hindu temples and religious institutions are indiscriminately taken over permanently and are being virtually run like government establishments.
Swamy furthering the allegations also added that the entire scheme and context of the Act negates any freedom or autonomy in the religious communities or denominations to administer or manage the temple.
"It is apparent that the impugned provisions of the impugned Acts concentrate the right of administration of the temples completely in the hands of Government instrumentalities created by the impugned Acts and in the Government itself, " said Swamy in the petition.
The petition elaborating the flaws of the law stated that the government can wield its power to appoint or remove the trustees and compel them to obey all orders of the government or its servants on pain of prosecution and dismissal, and in devious ways can remove the trustees and replace them by its nominees.
"It is pertinent to mention that by appointing the auditor by the government-appointed body itself and no other external audit; the transparency is at question. Furthermore, other State Government(s) in the past have also failed to maintain transparency of the audit and revenue system of temple," said the PIL.