Here is the link of the video on Youtube by Upword with J. Sai Deepak - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2B30mZmgwM
Transcript from the video pasted below; edited for ease of reading.
TLDR; SC recognizes relationship of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple and the Royal family of travancore, effectively paving the way for other temples across India. A message to Hindus as well, to not lose hope in the process, and DEMAND that the state respect the laxman rekha which the Constitution has drawn for itself (separation of state and religion; secularism).
Key takeaway - It is very clear that you've managed to achieve one of the perhaps more difficult outcomes, coming from the community you come from. Imagine in modern, secular, republican, whatever India, the right of a royal family with respect to a temple, based and rooted in Hindu tradition has been accepted in 2020. So given the Mahaul and the atmosphere that we live in, I would ask myself let us be a bit realistic and learn to celebrate one of the few achievements that we get.
So all the petitions are clubbed together by the Kerala High Court and results in a judgment of the Kerala High Court, which comes out on the 31st of January 2011. In which, the Kerala High Court basically says, that any privilege enjoyed or any position enjoyed by the ruler of Travancore who originally signed the covenant in May 1949, on behalf of the princely states of travancore and cochin on the one hand and the Indian Union on the other, ended with his demise in 1991 and in any case post the abolition of Privy Purse in 1971, thanks to the 26th amendment there is no concept of a ruler. Since, everywhere in the act with respect to the Padmanabhaswamy temple the word ruler has been used and the word ruler has become useless, therefore none of his successors would have any rights with respect to the temple. That was basically the position.
- Genesis of the case - It all starts with the eviction proceeding of a tenant, so a practicing advocate who was a tenant on a premises owned by the temple, was asked to vacate the premises in 2009 by the then executive officer. The tenant refused to and challenged the authority of the executive officer on the ground that his own appointment as executive officer was illegal, because the person who appointed him as the executive officer lacked the authority to do so under law.
- So in response to an eviction proceeding, the gentleman files a writ petition before the Kerala High Court in 2009, on the grounds that the royal family does not fall within the definition of ruler, for the purposes of the travancore-cochin Hindu religious institutions Act of 1950, which effectively governs temples in Kerala. According to him it was the 26th amendment of the Constitution in 1971, when royal titles and other let's say privileges were abolished, the concept of a ruler effectively became infructuous, redundant and therefore any power or privilege enjoyed by the Travancore royal family with respect to the Padmanabhaswamy temple came to an end. According to him, either in 1971 or at the very least after the death of the signatory to the original covenant, between the Travancore princely state and the indian union, who passed away in 1991, which is the legendary king of the Travancore princely state; our balarama varma who was known as the walking Vishnu or dasa so to speak of.
- Along with this, other civil suits were filed in various other courts alleging temple mismanagement, which in most cases are by people propped up.
- In 2010, Sri Martand Verma, approaches the High Court saying all these suits the civil suits and various courts must be transferred to the High Court because ultimately the central question in all these proceedings was whether they continue to have any authority and whether the 26th amendment made difference to their relationship with the temple.
Therefore the simple question was this whether the use of the word ruler in the act in the travancore-cochin Hindu religious institutions Act of 1950 was it with reference to an individual or was it with reference to an office therefore if it's an individual then it ends with the signatory of the Covenant of 1949 but if it's with reference to an office then the successors get rights as well. So, Kerala High Court rules that it was it ended with the life of the previous ruler which is in 1991. It passes detailed directions facilitating the takeover of the temple, its assets and management by the state government of Kerala through a Trust which is created by the state government of Kerala. It also directed opening of all the vaults of the temple, which were held to be sacred and never opened, at least some of the vaults and for every article in each of the vaults to be inventoried and put out for public display in a museum on a payment basis so that people, tourists and the general public can visit the temple to look at that, on the payment of a fee, so effectively what those articles which we effectively treat as articles of darshan had become articles of pradarshan. That is the consequence of the Kerala High Court judgment.
It is against that judgment that the royal family approached the Supreme Court in 2011. A stay was granted by the Supreme Court on day one and pending the disposition of the entire matter the court put in place certain committees which would administer and govern this particular temple in the interim so to speak and that is the proceeding which has ultimately resulted in the judgment of 13th of July 2020 where the court has finally come to the conclusion that the high court's judgment was patently erroneous, incorrect and certainly flew in the face of the history of the Covenant, the spirit behind the protection given to this particular family especially in the travancore-cochin Act of 1950**. So that's basically the sum and substance of the legal outcome.**
A direction of a secular institution which effectively strips a religious institution of its sanctity and all of that is sanctified in a judicial order, and the entire religious institution is assigned and handed over to a so called secular institution or a secular body is unimaginable
even as let's say a practitioner of Constitution or at the very least a believer of constitutional. You don't need to be person who believes either in religion or in hinduism to arrive at this basic reasonable conclusion, that on the face of it, the directions of the kerala high could transgressed perhaps all canons of reasonableness, all canons of expectations of fairness with respect to treatment of fundamental freedoms of religious nature both individual and institutional, because this was not just a question of one family of the temple, crores and crores of people across the world believe in lord Padmanabhaswamy and the temple is the object of worship and faith and respect and whatnot.
So, what are the positives from the judgement - A legal view.
- The entire relationship between the royal family and the temple is based on a specific instrument, a document. The document is the covenant, signed between the rulers of the princely states of travancore and cochin the merged state, after the independence of course on the one hand and the Indian Union on the other. The Indian Union was represented by Mr. VP Menon, the right-hand man of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who worked with him for integration of States, who was doing the negotiations with all the princely states rulers.
What was this covenant is all about? So once you sign the Instrument of Accession saying I wish to be a part of Bharat you have entered into a couple of more agreements to protect a couple of your interests and your rights. Now the document which we are referring to earlier it is the Covenant. Now that document was not entered into separately by travancore and cochin, a single document was entered into on behalf of both the princely states because by then both the state had merged to become the travancore-cochin state. Central feature; of this document which is relevant to the case is a provision called article 8, is what captures the Covenant or the let's say the promise made by the Indian Union to the ruler of the Travancore family that their rights and their control over the management of the Padmanabhaswamy temple shall not be interfered with, not just in his lifetime but also to his successors. The rest of the temples form part of the Travancore Devaswom Board, which is all the temples in Travancore and cochin but this particular temple falls under the exclusive domain of the ruler of Travancore. Just as the three major temples of Kerala have special relationships with different families and this family (Travancore) has a special relationship with the Padmanabhaswamy temple, that's what the Covenant recognizes. So this happens in May 1949, they sign this particular document in 1950, the HRC legislation of Kerala which is the travancore-cochin Hindu religious institutions Act of 1950 comes about and there's a specific chapter of this particular Act which is chapter 3 sections 18 to 23, the chapter itself is called Shri Padmanabhaswamy temple.
- Here, in the structure, the Rajah so to speak, has the right and the power to appoint a three-member committee and there is an executive officer as well whose appointed by the rajah. All of them aid the Raja in the discharge of his functions towards the administration of the temple.
That is the structure as it exists in the act and there has been no amendment to that particular portion of the Act either after 1950 and till date it remains as is. Various multiple amendments have been undertaken to the act overall but this particular chapter remains unchanged even after the abolish of the privy purses in 1971, even after the death of the first ruler or let's say the covenant ruler in 1991, nothing has changed as far as this chapter is concerned.
So the state government which says that, they (royals) have lost rights undertakes amendments with respect to the rest of the Act, but never touches this particular chapter, meaning thereby they understand that this is protected by the Covenant.
- Now what has happened today is that the Supreme Court recognizes that this entire act or let's say this chapter of the Act, if that is Ganga, the Gangotri is the Covenant and the relationship which is recognised in the Covenant is a special relationship where the Travancore family is like a saywayath which is the earthly custodian and representative of the deity, that is the relationship between them and that particular relationship is not the product of a British title. So abolition of Privy Purses in 1971 can take away all of the titles but not this relationship which has pre-existed them even before the concept of British came about for all practical purposes.
- So therefore the court says this particular relationship stands unaffected by the abolition of Privy purses in 1971 and that the right that was given under Article 8 was not limited to the signing ruler so to speak or that particular ruler who was alive at that particular point of time but also his successors that is the primary finding.
Why is this important?
Every other royal family which has its own temple would have entered into a covenant of similar nature where its rights with respect to its institution would have been protected. But unfortunately, over a point of time the indian state or its representatives have managed to go back on their obligations with respect to this right. The abolition of the Privy Purses itself was going back on what is promised.
Therefore what is the long-term application of this particular judgment?
Similarly placed temples and similarly placed royal families can agitate in a similar manner for a similar outcome. There are a number of temples across the country which are similarly placed or almost similarly placed, you can't call them identical. Mysore, Ekling ji in mewar, lot of other places.
What happens to the current administrative structure which seems to be the primary point of discussion everywhere?
There were three sets of proposals broadly that were placed before the court.
- ONE proposal went from the royal family itself.
- ONE proposal came from the state government and
- One proposal went from us the intervenors.
The court has for all practical purposes accepted the proposal of the ruler in entirety. Almost, except with one or two changes.
What is the structure that has been proposed? There is an existing Advisory Committee now you have two committees. The Advisory Committee which is the committee recognized under the Act has three people as usual. In addition to that, there is an administrative committee which has five people now.
Who are the three people who are the five people? Where is this interference coming from?
So this is the three-member committee. Then you have the administrative committee.
- Under the Advisory Committee you effectively have a retired judge of the High Court nominated by the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court who shall be a member of that particular committee.
- Then you have someone who's nominated by the ruler
- And the third person is a reputed Chartered Accountant who's nominated by the retired judge but in consultation with the ruler
So totally there are about five people.
- The Rajah had basically proposed that the first person shall be a retired IAS officer of the rank of the secretary from the government of Kerala which the court has replaced with the district judge.
- Followed by a nominee of the ruler
- Followed by a nominee of the Ministry of Culture, Union ministry of culture
- Followed by a nominee of the state government
- A reputed chartered accountant or something of that sort.
Now the fear that has been floated in a couple of circles is: you have a state government nominee, you have a central government nominee, and you have a couple of retired judges sitting here and also presiding judges sitting here. This is effectively a backdoor to facilitate government entrenchment or establishment entrenchment.
By recognizing the rights of the rajah on the one hand and still creating a backdoor entry on the other.
Now, let's apply our logic if you are effectively recognized that article 8 is valid and article 8 speaks of his (rajah) dominion over this particular temple, can it be the court's conclusion that I will uphold his rights on one hand like this and on the other hand I will dilute it by creating committees which can override and prevail over his let's say supremacy so to speak? Not Possible, that's what logic says I don't know what are the forms of logic are Possible.
- If you look at the Act, it clearly says that the administrative committee which is now replacing the executive officer who was previously appointed by the rajah shall be under the control and supervision of the ruler that is what the provision says.
- Second the Advisory Committee shall advise the rajah with respect to the discharge of his functions so one committee is under the supervision and control, the other shall only advise.
But the other thing is the Act expressly states that under section 18, that particular entity which performs the role of the executive officer, which is the Administrative Committee, shall be under the control and supervision of the ruler. And as far as section 20 is concerned the Advisory Committee shall only advise the discharge of the Functions.
So according to me this is like a telescope,
- at the top is the ruler
- then comes the Advisory Committee
- then comes the administrative committee.
What is it that people are not telling you? In the judgment the court goes on to say further that in matters of policy relating to the fundamental character of the temple it shall be the ruler who has the final say.
What are those issues that the court actually identifies; five specific issues
- Any monthly expenditure
- One-time expenditure over 1 crore you have to take the permission of the ruler
- Any expense item which is over 15 lakhs
- Any expansion
- Or renovation of the temple
You have to ask the ruler not just ask, you need his approval. (para numbers 47 page number 100 take a look at Roman number 11 that's what it says) What the court also says that any aspect of the administration which changes the fundamental character of the temple insofar as religious sentiments are concerned it will be the Raja who is the final authority and with respect to all the vaults and treasures that people wanted to open, the discretion is left to the committees. But as I said, the committee's are operating under the Raja, & the Raja is bound with the tradition I rest my case.
What do you make make of the negativity that has surrounded this issue?
I'm not saying certainly that everything is hunky-dory. I am certainly still of the opinion the court could have avoided populating this particular body with state representatives and that is where we had raised a couple of arguments.
Unfortunately, the court said that those arguments were never raised before the High Court. The basic point is in fact,
I'll quote you here we must perhaps not master the art of pulling defeat from the intestines of victory, that is something that we must not do. Because I am asking myself this simple question. Draw heart from the fact that the other side is seething, the other side is lost and the other side is effectively saying everything that have managed to get from the Kerala High Court in the first judgment I've lost it.
Effectively everything is gone right so there is no question of touching the treasures of the temple because that's sacred property that's not supposed to be touched. The fundamental relationship between the family and the temple has been restored and the control of the ruler over the administration of the temple for all practical purposes has been restored with adequate safeguards. So where is the problem? The problem is in twofold, these are let's call it footnotes for all practical purposes.
- The first footnote, is that we had effectively raised the argument that the temple is a denominational temple as well as a Vaishnava temple. Under Article 26 and the relationship between the family in the temple is also protected by article 25 -1 so please recognize that. We placed volumes of literature, the court merely said this is for the very first time that any party is raising an article 25 and 26 argument in the facts of this case it was never raised before the High Court.
- Now the court has chosen not to entertain the particular argument. It has not rejected the argument, it says I don't need to get into the issue because I'm arriving at the same conclusion through article 8 anyways, so I don't need to get into this academic issue at this particular point in time that's what has happened.
So does this judgment paves the way for the freedom of the temples all across the Country? See there are specific examples where this model can be considered.
But can this be applied to every other temple I would be very circumspect and grounded in my extrapolation of that to the extent that the court is willing to recognize a special relationship which is rooted in tradition and which is a religious relationship. It is a welcome sign that today Indian courts recognized religious relationship which is Hindu in nature and character and which still also believes that the rights of control can reside in these royal families based on the facts and circumstances and the special relationship that the family enjoys with the temple.
- So for instance if you look at the manner in which the TTD is run, under Section 96 of the HRC act of Andhra Pradesh of 1987 it is populated entirely by people appointed by the state. So when you look at that structure and when you look at this structure this is better.
- You look at the structure which currently applies to the temples in Uttarakhand where Dr. Swamy is the only person to have actually challenged that particular Jotham act where the government there, the state government, has taken over more than 51 temples, this structure is better than that structure,
- This structure is also better than the structure that currently applies to the Sri Jagannath temple because the Sri Jagannath temple administration committee under Section 5 of the HT is Jagannath temple act of 1955, again is a government appointed board. It's a government appointed committee compared to that kind of deep entrenchment of the state in those major temples, what are we really talking about here..
So, from a big-picture perspective it is effectively a positive sign. It may not be a giant leap, it is perhaps a miniscule step, but for this temple it's a giant leap compared to where it was in 2011.
For similarly placed temples this could perhaps at least start as the starting point of a discussion if not the ideal end.
For temples that do not really have a ruler, history of the Raja or the priestly kingdom behind them. How do those temples, we often talk about freedom of temples from state, which have government control, what replaces it? (the management structure) The basic point is if we subscribe to the concept of Sampradaya under hindu tradition it is possible to argue that over 70% of Hindu temples are sampradaya temples
. Therefore they must enjoy the rights of autonomy available under Article 26. Which means members of the sampradaya should fight for populating the administrative bodies of that particular temple, fight for the ouster of state officials from that particular temple and they must initiate proceedings on the ground.
However all of this can begin that is what is called the denominational state. What is the denominational status? the denominational status is a fairly powerful tool to prevent encroachment of the autonomy of the religious institution by the state and therefore the first goal is to prove that you are in the form of a denomination.
For a moment let's assume that you're not even a denomination. In principle, the argument can't be that it is state-controlled which is the default and community control which is the alternative because that is not what is said by article 25 as well. So article 25.2a only limits itself to the state's role to supervise. It's a supervisory role that the state performs, it is not an administrative role. You can't take over the entire process. Again here, Dr. Swamy's judgment from the state of Tamil Nadu, the judgement of January 2014 is a landmark judgement on this particular issue. Where thanks to dr. Swami's efforts and others, this particular law was laid down by justice BS Jahan and justice bobde, was not the current chief justice, so the law as well as the remedy with respect to denominational temples and nondenominational temples is fairly clear Unfortunately the clarity has not percolated to public awareness to a significant extent. A lot of us have to take the responsibility for not, let's say explaining this particular issue to the public in a language they understand or maybe we have we've been too caught up in our own legalities to explain it to them.
But the answer exists in law. Let's say the position of communities which are in a position to establish the denominational status is slightly better, that even without the denominational temple the state has a certain laxman rekha which the Constitution has drawn for itself, that is the Laxman Rekha that you must insist on, in principle as long as you stick to that and you don't budge from that particular position, denomination or other ways is a second issue that comes much later.
What I am is different but where you are supposed to be is the first question, so stay out. (secularism) After this huge historic win, what next? where do you see this entire movement going towards?
Any case it tells the community please try and put some faith in this particular process. We are trying to take a shot at a certain edifice which has not work for you all these decades, now it has started showing results so don't be disheartened. If you choose to be disheartened you do it at your own peril and to your own detriment, nobody else stands to lose anything, you do. Pessimism is a luxury that Hindus can't afford. You have no other option but to be optimistic and perseverant. Keep attacking, keep getting the job done.
- There has been a lot of negativity from people. I'm more than happy to accept that this is not a hundred percent ideal outcome as I said earlier but there is a lot to draw a heart from and hope from.
- If we want to convince ourselves that we are destined to be defeated always and that we are destined to lose always I am sorry. Man can't put in what God has not, that's your problem.
- But as someone who means business and was clear about how this thing could perhaps be achieved and what are the legal remedies available, where we have so many people working with us people who matter and people who take it very seriously, who committed to this are working with us we know for a fact that there's a lot to build on from this particular judgment at least with respect to similarly placed temples.
Note: Again, this post is a transcript from the video (linked at start above), and aimed to create a discussion and awareness amongst public in regards to Freedom of Hindu Temples from state.