By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 11 Jun: The Uttarakhand Government has finally responded to the notice issued by the Nainital High Court on the PIL filed by BJP MP and noted activist Dr Subramanian Swamy against its takeover of the Char Dham Shrines and handing over of their management to the ‘Devasthanam Board’. The response of the government was filed yesterday but it does not address most of the concerns raised by the noted leader and has, instead, alleged that Swamy has filed the PIL to score political points. The government has justified the takeover of the 51 temples in the state including the leading Char Dham temples of Kedarnath and Badrinath. The government has urged the High Court to dismiss the petition of the BJP leader.
The 21 page affidavit filed by the government goes to the extent of accusing Dr Swamy of trying to score political points. It, however, fails to substantiate the charge as Swamy belongs to the BJP, which is the ruling party here. Also, what needs to be remembered here is the fact that Dr Swamy is known to have consistently held the opinion that it isn’t the business of the government to control Hindu shrines and the devotees should be allowed to manage the temples. In fact, Swamy has in the past, too, filed similar cases over a considerable period of time in other states where the BJP is not in power.
In its response, the Uttarakhand Government claimed that the takeover of the temples was necessary due to natural calamities and to have transparent conduct of the Char Dham pilgrimage in future. What is interesting, however, is the fact that the government’s response is silent on the main contentions of Subramanian Swamy as well as the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict on the Nataraja Temple takeover and Government interference in the affairs of temples. The affidavit fails to challenge the contentions made by Swamy in his PIL and, therefore, it remains to be seen what attitude is adopted by the High Court in dealing with the case!
The affidavit has been filed on behalf of Secretary, Culture & Religious Affairs, of the government and it adds that the petitioner is a political person and, therefore, it appeared that he has filed the present Writ Petition in order to serve his private and political interests, an argument which appears very weak according to several legal experts.
The affidavit further claimed that the State had merely made an attempt to collaborate with the trustees in administering the Char Dham Devasthanam. Their religious activities had not been touched, neither had the powers of the trustees been suspended. The power had been given to the CEO by the State Government only in the management of the Devasthanams. There was no intention to remove the trustees altogether nor to violate the rights given to them under Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution.
It may be recalled that the High Court bench comprising Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe had issued a notice to the state government seeking its response on the PIL filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy against the government’s takeover of the Char Dham and 47 other temples, recently. The PIL had been filed before the lockdown. What could be an important basis for the court to decide the case are the points raised by Swamy quoting the landmark Supreme Court 2014 Judgment against the Tamil Nadu Government’s takeover of Nataraja temple in Chidambaram district. This case was also filed by Subramanian Swamy. In the Judgment and many subsequent Judgments on the matter, the Supreme Court has clearly said that temples should be managed by devotees and not the Government. It may further be pertinent to remind that, some days ago, Swamy had also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct the State Government to withdraw the controversial temple takeover act.