Govt Can Control Temple Properties Only By Legislation, Says HC

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Srinagar—The government has no power to take over management of a temple or religious place by way of an executive order but it can do by bringing legislation, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has said.

“If government feels that a particular temple or religious place and properties attached thereto are required to be maintained and managed in better manner and in larger public interest, it can take over management of such temples/religious endowments by legislating appropriate enactment, which may, inter alia, provide for compensation of those who are deprived of their right to manage and even receive the offerings,’ a single bench of Justice Sanjeev Kumar said, referring enactment of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Act to manage the temple and its properties.

“The Government, however, has no power to take over management of a temple or religious place managed by Trust or by some other committee by way of an executive fiat,” the court added.

It made the observation while quashing an order by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, appointing SDM Srinagar as receiver of Shiv Mandir trust and ordering officers to verify credentials, amongst others permanent residential certificates of all inmates putting up in the trust including that of the Manhant of the temple at Abi Guzar here.

Swami Sureshanand Giri, the Manhant had filed a petition, seeking directions from the high court to quash an order dated 3rd August 2015 (bearing no.DivCom/Reader/555-60), passed by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir whereby Sub Divisional Magistrate Srinagar (East)/Tehsildar Srinagar, South, were appointed as Receiver of the Trust with a further direction to Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar/Jammu and Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar/Jammu, to verify all credentials, such as Permanent Residential Certificates, Stay Period, Residential Address, Occupation Status and Character antecedent of all inmates, residing in the Trust campus, including Mahant of the Trust within two weeks.

Giri had also challenged order dated 10 September 2015, whereby Financial Commissioner (Revenue) held the appeal preferred by Sureshanand Giri against Divisional Commissioner’s order as not maintainable.

“After having bird’s eye view of the case in hand, it becomes crystal clear that the subject-matter of writ petition does not fall within the four corners of Land Revenue Act and therefore, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, had no jurisdiction to entertain the application and pass impugned order dated 3rd August 2015. Similarly, (Financial Commissioner), though admitted that (Diviaional Commissioner) had acted beyond his jurisdiction, did not set-aside the order but instead dismissed the appeal preferred by petitioner,” the court said and quashed both the orders.

“This is, however, made clear that this petition has been disposed of purely on the question of jurisdiction and shall not be taken as expression of opinion on merits of the controversy of the rights of the parties inter se,” the court added.

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