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1. Here are the updates of the hearing of February 14, 2019 in the #PadmanabhaswamyTemple case.
2. Mr. Jaideep Gupta resumed submissions on behalf of the State Government of Kerala. He submitted that the scope of endowment/dedication made by Raja Marthanda Varma in 1750 to Lord Padmanabhaswamy did not satisfy the requirements of Shebaitship under the law.
3. Mr. Gupta submitted that the position enjoyed by the Travancore Kings was only by virtue of their positions as Rulers. Post the enactment of the TCHRI Act 1950, the position is governed by the statute and has become a mere statutory office
4. At the time of enactment of the TCHRI Act 1950, there is no cessation of the office until the definition of Ruler was changed in 1971 under the 26th amendment. The said change applied to the Ruler and his successor.
5. Mr. Gupta submitted that after the passing of the erstwhile Ruler in 1991, while the State Government did not take any steps to assert the doctrine of escheat, it now supported the judgement of the Kerala High Court.
6. Justice Lalit observed that even after 1991, the State Government of Kerala never questioned the role and the position of the successor qua the Temple.
7. Mr. Gupta agrees but submits that now that the Kerala High Court has held that there is no question of succession in light of the 26th amendment, the State Government supports the verdict.
8. Mr. Gupta then submitted that the material placed on record is inadequate to make a claim of Shebaitship on behalf of the Travancore Family.
9. Mr. Gupta submitted that neither before the Kerala High Court in this litigation or any other litigation has a case of Shebaitship been made out by the Travancore Family.
10. To this, Justice Lalit pointed out that the reason a claim was never made before was because the position of the Travancore Family with respect to the Temple was never in question and was never objected to by anyone, including the State.
11. Justice Lalit further enquired if Mr. Gupta had any objection if the Court went into the issue of Shebaitship and arrived at a finding on the issue. To this, Mr. Gupta submitted that he could not object to it except that the material was inadequate according to him.
12. Justice Lalit further enquired from Mr. Gupta if had any objection if the Court were to consider the material placed on record by Mr. @jsaideepak on the relationship between the Travancore Family and the Temple.
13. To this Mr. Gupta submitted that he could not possibly object to such an exercise. However, he submitted that it is for the Court to consider if there is sufficient material to undertake such a rigorous exercise.
14. Mr. Gupta then proceeded to rely on judgements to explain what constitutes a Hindu Endowment to advance the argument that despite the dedication of the erstwhile State by Raja Marthanda Varma, it is unclear as to what exactly has been dedicated.
15. Mr. Gupta submitted that in light of lack of clarity on what properties were endowed by Raja Marthanda Varma, to make a claim of Shebaitship would be baseless.
16. To this, Justice Lalit observed that there is clarity on dedication which is evident from the Covenant as well as the TCHRI Act 1950 and that there is also clarity on what constitutes Pandaravaka Properties.
17. Mr. Gupta submitted that the law strikes a distinction between Shebaitship and Dharmakarta. While certain elements are common in both relationships, the former requires the Shebait to have a beneficial interest in dedicated property while latter is a mere manager of property
18. Mr. Gupta submitted that since the Travancore Family itself claims that the property belongs to the Deity and they have no right over it, they are at best Dharma Kartas or hereditary trustees but not Shebaits.
19. Justice Lalit observed that the factum of dedication of specific properties in favour of the Deity is clear from the Covenant, the TCHRI Act 1950 and the identification of Pandaravaka Properties/Deity's properties
20. Justice Lalit also stated that the only limited question involved in the case is whether the successor of the last Ruler enjoys the same position after the 26th amendment.
21. Mr. Gupta agrees with the observation of Justice Lalit that there is a dedication of specific properties to the Temple. However, it would technically not rise to the level of Shebaitship since there is no personal interest enjoyed by Travancore Family in dedicated property.
22. Mr. Gupta submitted that regardless of whether there exists a Shebaitship or a hereditary trusteeship, the existence of a trust element between the Travancore Family and the Temple is beyond doubt.
23. However, that position of trustee was enjoyed by the senior most member of the Travancore Family in his capacity as the Ruler and not in his capacity as a private citizen.
24. Justice Lalit disagreed with the submission and observed that the fact that there is specific provision in the Covenant, namely Article 8, which captures the special relationship between the Travancore Family and the Temple itself is proof of the existence of a private right.
25. To this, Justice Lalit observed that going by Mr. Gupta's submission, Mr. Gupta would have to establish that owing to 26th amendment every relationship enjoyed by Ruler with any piece of property or institution by virtue of his position as the Ruler had come to an end.
26. Justice Lalit further observed that in view of specific provisions of the Covenant which guaranteed succession of special privileges, right and dignities, it may not be possible to argue that the 26th amendment had ended such privileges and rights.
27. Mr. Gupta submitted that whatever may be the relationship between the Travancore Family and the Temple, it is now subsumed in the TCHRI Act 1950. Therefore, the word Ruler in Section 18(2) of the Act would have to be understood in light of Article 366(22) after 26th amendment
28. Mr. Gupta submitted that the consequence of the 26th amendment is that there is no Ruler within the meaning of Section 18(2). Consequently, there can be no succession and therefore the doctrine of escheat applies.
29. Mr. Gupta submitted that despite escheat since the State cannot administer the Temple, the High Court came out with an administrative structure.
30. Mr. Gupta submitted that the right of the Travancore Family to perform its religious duties have not been taken away by the High Court, nor is the State Government interested in taking away such rights.
31. Mr. Gupta submitted that the State Government even objected to the Amicus's interference with the religious practice of the Temple.
32. Mr. Gupta continued with his submissions on February 19,2019.
33. Mr. Gupta submitted that the consequence of the 26th amendment is that it abolished the concept of a Ruler and therefore the doctrine of escheat under Articles 295 & 296 become relevant.
34. Mr. Gupta placed reliance on a judgment which discussed the doctrine of escheat and explained its application in situations where there was no heir.
35. To this, Justice Lalit pointed out that Travancore Family lineage had not gone extinct & that right of hereditary trusteeship or Shebaitship could not be taken by doctrine of escheat since modern State cannot exercise such rights or enjoy such privileges in relation to Temple
36. Mr. Gupta submitted that while the State cannot step into the shoes of the Ruler under Article 18(2), it could invoke the doctrine of escheat.
37. Justice Lalit observed that the concept of Gaddi/throne and special privileges was not abolished by the 26th amendment since its succession is guaranteed by the Covenant. The 26th amendment abolished only the Privy purse.
38. Mr. Gupta submitted that the 26th amendment had done away with special privileges and rights too. He then submitted that Article 363 was not attracted in the instant case since the issue was limited to the interpretation of the TCHRI Act 1950 and did not involve the Covenant.
39. Mr. Gupta submitted that the relevance of the Covenant was merely incidental and therefore the bar under Article 363 did not apply to the case.
40. Mr. Gupta submitted will continue his submissions tomorrow i.e. February 20, 2019.
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