Devotees of a Temple Have a Say in Its Running: AP High Court

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Hyderabad: On the 1st of April 2022, Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled that devotees of a temple are entitled to have a say in the way a temple is run. The bench of Justice R Raghunandan Rao made this observation in a petition moved by Yellanti Renuka against the proposed reconstruction of Sri Mahakali Ammavari Temple in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.

In her petition, Yellanti Renuka alleged that the deity in the Sri Mahakali Ammavaru temple was installed by her mother on a vacant site that belonged to her. It was consecrated in 1976 by Vedic scholars and purohits who had performed rites and rituals following the relevant Agam Shastras. The temple was then further developed after this.

Yellanti Renuka emphasized the important role of her mother and one other person in the establishment of the temple and the deity. She argued that they would have to be treated as the hereditary trustees of the temple.

The dispute

The dispute started when the temple management made a move to reconstruct the temple and initiated the process by informing the officers of the Endowment Department. Yellanti Renuka, and the other founding member of the temple, opposed the decision to reconstruct the temple. However, the temple management authorities decided to execute the temple reconstruction proposal and started collecting donations from the devotees for the same.

Yellanti Renuka then approached the high court saying, “The said reorganization/reconstruction of the temple cannot be permitted and any such action would be a violation of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.”

The respondents, that is the members of the temple management, argued that Yellanti Renuka was not entitled to maintain the writ petition because she is not a member of the founder family which is a disputed fact.

The court ruling

Yellanti Renuka and the other petitioner had claimed that they have been attending and participating in various religious ceremonies and other activities of the temple for a long time. The court pointed out that this claim can not be denied.

The court noted that Section 2(18)(b) of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act 1987 states that any person who is entitled to attend or is in the habit of attending the performance of service, charity, or worship connected with the institution, would be a ‘person having interest’.

The court said, “The term ‘persons having interest’ has a certain significance. Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code provides that, any two persons having an interest, can move the court where the intervention of the court, in the management of any charitable or religious trust, is required.”

The court added, “The term persons having Interest has not been defined in the Code. However, it has been interpreted to include actual worshippers at a temple. The same definition is now incorporated in the Andhra Pradesh Endowments Act. The Endowment Act has also given a significant place to persons falling under this category. Section 43 (5) requires the concerned Assistant Commissioner of Endowments to give an opportunity of hearing to such persons, before taking a decision on the registration of an institution under the Act.”

The court thus ruled, “This is a recognition of the fact that devotees of a temple are entitled to have a say in the manner in which an institution or temple is run and it cannot be said that such persons having interest cannot be permitted to approach this court when there are complaints of mismanagement or violation of the methods of worship or essential religious practices.”

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