By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 6 Jul: Uttarakhand High Court today completed hearing the case in respect of a PIL filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, against the Devasthanam Board constituted by the state government and reserved its judgement! Today was the turn of the petitioner Swamy to submit his final arguments in the case in response to the counter arguments put up by the state government through its counsel SN Babulkar and by the NGO Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) through its counsel Kartikeya Harigupta. After the completion of the hearing, the Court today reserved its judgement. The decision is expected to be announced any day now! It may be recalled that the court had been hearing this case continuously since 29 June.
Swamy was represented in the Court (through online hearing process) by his counsel Manisha Bhandari and he was also present in the court through online process. The case was heard by the High Court bench comprising of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Ramesh C Khulbe. Submitting his final argument, Swamy argued that formation of Devasthanam Board was an attempt to take over the control of the 51 Hindu temples including the very ancient Char Dham Temples at Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri and this action was violation of Articles 25, 26 and 32 of the Constitution of India.
It may be noted here that Article 25 deals with freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion, while Article 26 deals with freedom to manage religious affairs. He added that he wanted justice under Article 32 which gave right to individuals to seek justice from the court when they felt deprived of their rights granted under the constitution. The action of the state government to take over the control of the temples was against the public sentiments, Swamy asserted.
Highlighting the fact that Chief Minister was heading the Board, Swamy argued that there was no justification in including him in the committee. Swamy further argued that Chief Minister being a public representative had his primary responsibility to run the government not the temples.
Swamy reminded the court that a temple committee had already existed before the formation of the Devasthanam Board to manage the affairs of these temples. This system was in place since a long time.
Earlier during a previous hearing, Swamy had also alleged that the State Government was raising unfounded allegations against the priests and families looking after the temples in Uttarakhand including Kedarnath and Badrinath. He had argued that a direct allegation had been made against Rawals as well as Tehri Durbar but was still unclear why the Tehri Durbar still formed part of the newly constituted Board. The pilgrims had been visiting the templed for years without any problems and there were never any complaints with regard to the same. Assuming without admitting that any income was squandered by the managing committee of the temples, appropriate action could have been taken against the people involved but the same was never done.
It may be recalled that the state government in its arguments had claimed that Swamy’s motive behind the PIL was political gain and that the Devasthanam Act was not at all unconstitutional nor did it violate Articles 25, 26 and 32 of the Constitution. The government had further claimed that the state government had made these Act with great transparency. The entire record of the offerings in the temple was being kept, so this petition was frivolous and be dismissed.
Strangely however, the government got support in favour of its stand from NGO RLEK which had supported the formation of the Devasthanam Board and had quoted that as per the Manusmriti, the king was omnipotent and could take any decision in public interest. The RLEK through its advocate Harigupta had gone on to claim charges of corruption in Badrinath were not new and had been made even in the British rule.
It would perhaps be pertinent to remind here that Swamy had in some of his tweets alleged that some NGOs funded by the Church and dependent on foreign funds were unduly interested in the case!