‘Opinion of Advocate General cannot replace an enquiry vis-à-vis under the Statute’: Supreme Court Reserves Order In Ramchandrapura Math Case

  • Sakshi Shukla & Shruti Kakkar
  • 02:28 PM, 07 Apr 2021

A Full Bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian closes hearing on appeal filed against the order of Karnataka High Court, quashing the 2008 Government Order handing over management of Mahabaleshwara temple at Gokarna to Sri Ramachandrapura Math, Hosanagar. 

The Bench through Hon’ble Chief Justice Bobde noted, “There was a matter argued by Dr. Swamy, where it was disputed that whether the priest should have it or the Government should have it. It is not the same in this case. Here the dispute is who in non-government sector should have it. One of the discussions we are having is that this cannot be a precedent for other case, like kanchi math etc.”

Moreover, it was also added that public orders cannot be supported by an Affidavit in Court, to the submission made by Senior Counsel Ranjit Kumar for the State.

Learned Senior Counsel Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued for the petitioner.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy appeared for the Interveners.

Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar appeared for the State, with the learned AAG Mr. Goel for the State of Karnataka.

The Court also witnessed several exchanges on a lighter note where the Bench, before Dr. Swamy mentioning that the Supreme Court Judge is not heading the committee appointed in the matter but is only an advisor contrary to the remark just made, said “My brother here corrected me. We have self-regulatory mechanism here!”

It was the submission of Dr. Singhvi that; (1) Exclusionary clause as mentioned under Section 1(4) must be given effect in letter and spirit (2) There has been an enquiry in the matter, with due application of mind (3) If there are any anomalies or differences, an enquiry may be directed by the present Court (4) The status quo should maintain.

Reference was also made to historical facts suggesting the administration of Temple through a Math, to establish the interlinking of the two.

Senior Counsel Ranjit Kumar argued that the State took an informed decision of denotifying other temples in the State as well, based on inputs by tehsildar, deputy commissioner and the Advocate general.

To a similar submission by Dr. Singhvi, it was said that no matter how eminent the position of Advocate General may be, an enquiry under the Statute cannot be replaced by his opinion; “We are not saying that the Advocate General's opinion is not of any material. We are saying that there should be an enquiry, his report cannot be an alternative to a vis-a-vis enquiry under the statute.”

On September 7, 2018, the Supreme Court Bench comprising the then Hon’ble Chief Justice, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice A.M Khanwilkar refused to grant stay against the interim order as well as the judgement on a plea filed by Sri Ramachandrapura Math. 

The interim order passed by the High Court on 10.08.2018 after pronouncement of the final judgment shall continue, in the meantime”, the Bench in an order dated 07.09.2018 had noted. 

In 2008, A PIL was initially filed by Sri Samsthana Mahabaleshwara Devaru, a registered trust and its trustee, Balachandra Vigneshwara Dixit, and several others from Gokarna and other places in Karnataka High Court against the order that excluded allied temples from the notified list of April 30, 2003, and handed them over to the math. 

The Division Bench of Karnataka High Court noted that the Government had no power to exclude the temples by way of a notification under the General Clauses Act’s provisions. Further, an Overseeing Committee, which was supposed to start functioning from September 10, 2018, to be headed by the Uttara Kannada Deputy Commission was also constituted to monitor the daily affairs of Mahabaleshwara and allied temples. Justice BN Srikrishna, former Supreme Court judge, was appointed as adviser to the Committee.

The Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada district was also directed to prepare an inventory of movable & immovable assets and prepare bank accounts of the temple. 

Concerning the question as to whether Gokarna temple is attached to math, the Bench, while observing that the same was a mixed question of facts and law, had observed;

“The documents produced by the mutt in these writ petitions cannot be considered as conclusive proof of the said fact. The disputed question of fact cannot be decided in these writ petitions by exercising power under the Article 226 of Constitution of India, but it would have to be tried and decided by a competent civil court” 

Thus, the Bench, while declaring the order illegal, noted that, 

“Deletion of the temple from the notification and handing over to the mutt is an improper exercise of power and hit by Article 14 of the Constitution, and action of the government is tainted as it is not for a bona fide, but to confer a benefit on the respondent mutt”. 

Case Title: Ramachnadrapura Math V. Sri Samsthana Mahabaleshwara Devaru & Ors.