‘Ayodhya Mandapam’: HC orders notice to HR&CE Dept. on appeal preferred by Sri Ram Samaj

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A-G assures the court that a school and marriage hall shall function without any interruption and that pujas would also be conducted as usual

A-G assures the court that a school and marriage hall shall function without any interruption and that pujas would also be conducted as usual

A Division Bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday ordered notice returnable by April 21 to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department on a writ appeal preferred by Sri Ram Samaj, a registered society that runs the Ayodhya Aswametha Maha Mandapam at West Mambalam in Chennai, against the appointment of a ‘Thakkar’ (Fit Person) in 2013 to manage its affairs.

Justices M. Duraiswamy and T.V. Thamilselvi granted the time for the HR&CE Department to file its counter affidavit to the writ appeal. They also recorded the submission of Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram that, during the meantime, neither the functioning of Sri Sitaram Vidyalaya Matriculation School nor that of a marriage hall owned by the society would be interrupted in any way by the department.

Advocate A.K. Sriram, representing the Teynampet Balasubramaniaswamy Temple Executive Officer who had been appointed as the Fit Person of the Samaj, also assured the court that the pujas as well as other rituals and festivals would be conducted as usual. The assurances were given after senior counsel Satish Parasaran, representing the appellant samaj, insisted that its regular functioning should not be crippled.

In its pleadings before the court, the Samaj said that it got registered as a society in 1958. Its objectives were to promote Indian culture, art and philosophy; establish educational institutions; provide facilities for funeral rites to the poor and the needy irrespective of caste, creed or religion; provide facilities for conducting marriages without a profit motive; perform Sri Rama Navami Mahotsavam every year and so on.

For the purpose of conducting the Mahotsavam, the society had erected large size portraits of Lord Sri Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, and Lord Hanuman on its premises. “It is pertinent to state that there are no idols of any God which are consecrated as per any established Agama Sastras and only photographs as stated above are used,” the Samaj said and added that Homams and Veda Parayanams were also conducted on special occasions.

It claimed M.V. Ramani, a life member of the Samaj, was in the habit of lodging complaints against the office-bearers and governing body members since 2004. Based on a complaint lodged by him, the HR&CE Department initiated an inquiry and passed an order on December 31, 2013 declaring the Samaj to be a place of public religious worship by Hindu community since it had reportedly installed idols and performing pujas through public contributions.

The HR&CE Department also appointed a Fit Person to manage the affairs of the Samaj in order to protect its properties and to regulate the revenue receipts. Immediately, the Samaj filed a writ petition in the High Court in January 2014 questioning the authority of the department to interfere in the affairs of a society and obtained an interim stay of the December 2013 proceedings. The stay was in operation for over eight years.

However, after taking up the case for final hearing on March 17 this year, Justice V.M. Velumani dismissed the writ petition and vacated the interim stay on the ground that disputed questions of fact such as the samaj being a temple or not could not be decided in the writ jurisdiction. She also refused to go into the issue as to whether the idols had been installed as per the Agama Sastras or not and left them open to be agitated before an appropriate forum.

When this order of the single judge was brought on appeal before the Division Bench on Tuesday, the A-G informed the court that the Fit Person had taken charge of the Samaj on Monday. When the judges wanted to know if there was any law and order problem and whether senior citizens were involved, the A-G replied in the affirmative and said that many were detained for creating such a problem but they were released on the same day.

Later, the judges granted him time to file a counter affidavit on behalf of the HR&CE Department and decided to take up the appeal for hearing on April 21.


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