By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 21 Jul: The Uttarakhand High Court today dismissed the petition filed by noted BJP leader Subramanian Swamy against the constitution of the Devasthanam Board by the Uttarakhand Government and upheld its constitutional validity.
However, it has amended some provisions of the Act and also made it clear that the ownership of the temples would not vest with the Devasthanam Board. While the CM, Trivendra Singh Rawat, and Religious Affairs Minister Satpal Maharaj have welcomed the judgement, the petitioner, Subramanian Swamy has vowed to challenge the decision soon in the Supreme Court.
In his petition, Subramanian Swamy had claimed that the state government’s takeover of the Char Dhams and 51 other shrines through the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board was unlawful. Swamy’s PIL had said that that the action of the government was wrong, on the grounds that it violated Articles 14, 25, 26 and 31-A of the Constitution of India.
While dismissing the petition, the court however categorically ruled that the ownership of the temple properties would vest in the Char Dham shrines and the power of the Board would be confined only to the administration and management of these properties. The ruling was given by the bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice RC Khulbe. This order pertains to Section 22 of the Devasthanam Act 2019.
It may be recalled that under Section 22 of the Devashtanam Management Act, 2019, it was provided that, ‘all properties belonging to Char Dham Devasthanams to which the Act applies, on the date of commencement of the Act, that are in the possession or under the superintendence of the Government, Zila Panchayat, Zila Parishad, Municipality, property in the Board or any other local authority or in the possession or superintendence of any company, society, organisation, institutions or other person or any committee, superintendent appointed by the Government, shall, on the date on which the Board is or is deemed to have been constituted, or members are or are deemed to have been appointed under the Act, stand transferred to the Board and all assets vesting in the Government, local authority or person aforesaid and all liabilities subsisting against such movement, local authority or person on the said date shall devolve on the Board.
The judgment, while providing huge relief to the government, which can continue to manage the affairs of the Char Dham shrines, can’t be stated to be a total victory for the government as the Court has ruled that the power of the Board would be confined only to the administration and management of the properties and the ownership of the shrines would not vest with the Board as had been provided under the Act.
The High Court order states, “Except to the limited extent that the words ‘shall devolve’ in Section 22 must be read as ‘devolve on the Char Dham and shall be maintained by the Board’ and the words ‘may further acquire land’, in the proviso thereto, shall be read as ‘may further acquire land on behalf of the Char Dham’, the challenge to the validity of the 2019 Act, on the ground that it violates Articles 14, 25, 26 and 31-A of the Constitution of India, must fail.”