NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from the Tamil Nadu government to a plea filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who alleged the state took control of nearly 40,000 temples and other Hindu religious institutions “arbitrarily”.
Swamy has challenged the Constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, which was allegedly used by the state government to “arbitrarily and unconstitutionally” take over the administration, management and control of these temples and Hindu religious institutions.
The apex court also issued notice on the interim relief sought in the plea for restraining the state from appointing or dismissing ‘archakas’ (priests) at temples and Hindu religious institutions in the state till the disposal of the petition.
At the outset, a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia told Swamy that some writ petitions raising similar issues are pending in the apex court. Justice Gupta said he had the opportunity to deal with one of those petitions and this plea can be listed along with that.
“You may issue notice then,” Swamy told the bench. The top court issued notice on the plea and sought Tamil Nadu government’s response to it. It said the plea would be heard along with the pending petitions.
“One small request your lordships….I have asked for an interim stay because this is getting to be an epidemic,” Swamy said, adding, “so, I have sought an interim stay.”
“What kind of an interim stay. We cannot stay the Act now,” the bench observed. Swamy said he has sought interim relief regarding appointment of ‘archakas’ by the state government following which the bench also issued a notice. It said the matter will come up for hearing along with the pending plea next month.
The plea has challenged the Constitutional validity and vires of sections 21, 23, 27, 28, 47, 49, 49B, 53, 55, 56 and 114 of the 1959 Act.
“The petitioner challenges these sections on the ground that these sections are violative of Articles 14, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, in as much as they grant the respondent-government absolute control over the appointment and dismissal of ‘archakas’ (priests) in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu,” it said.
The plea said, “By exercising its powers under the various provisions of the Act, the respondent-government has taken over nearly 40,000 Hindu temples in the state of Tamil Nadu, in utter disregard of the rights of the Hindus in the state to profess, practice and propagate their religion.”
It contended the management and administration of temples and appointment and dismissal of ‘archakas’ are a part and parcel of the right to practice, profess and propagate religion, protected under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
The plea said the appointment of ‘archakas’ and their roles in temples do not fall within the definition of a “secular activity and should be declared as such”.
“This court has time and again held that it is not the prerogative of a secular government to run and administer temples,” the plea said.