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Here are the updates for today's hearing in the #padmanabhaswamytemple case.
2. State's counsel submitted copies of the Expert Committee Report to the Bench. Mr. Venugopal, then started his final submissions.
3. Mr. Venugopal submitted that with respect to the accounts of the Temple, the reason why revenues have gone up after 2014 is that the appointed administration has doubled the charges for everything.
4. He further submitted that the charges for all services were increased and VIP darshans have been introduced in the Temple.
5. Justice Lalit then pointed out that the expenditure on maintenance and security of the Temple would have increased parallelly.
6. Mr. Venugopal agreed to this and submitted that new staff was appointed in addition to the existing staff. He further submitted that staff wages were also revised and currently these wages are more than that of Travancore Devaswom Board's employees.
7. Counsel for the State intervened at this point to submit copies of a proposed scheme (State's Proposal) for administration of the #padmanabhaswamytemple. The Counsel also requested permission to submit records of inventories as were enquired by the Bench in previous hearing.
8. At this Justice Lalit requested the Counsel to only submit printed copies of the inventories if possible and that the Bench will not accept any CDs or electronic copies of the same.
9. Mr. Venugopal, thereafter continued with his submissions. He said that he would like to submit in the same sequence as Mr. Gupta had in the previous hearing.
10. Mr. Venugopal submitted that w.r.t the issue of interpreting the term 'Ruler', State's counsel had averred that Article 366(22) of the Constitution was modeled after Article 6 of the Government of India Act,1935.
11.He further submitted that construction of the term 'Ruler' however cannot be traced back to the 1935 Act, as the Covenant for formation of the United States of Travancore and Cochin superseded the 1935 Act and the concept of 'Ruler as the Sovereign' ceased thereafter.
12. Mr. Venugopal read out both the provisions before the Court and added that even before the Covenant was signed, the status of Rulers had changed w.r.t the recognition given to them.
13. He submitted that by the Indian Provisional Constitution Order of 1947, the definition of 'Ruler' was changed. A concept of de juré sovereignty was adopted in the new Article 6 which recognised a representative acting on behalf of a Ruler who was minor.
14. Mr. Venugopal then read out portions from the 1949 Covenant. He submitted that with the Provisional Constitution Order being in force, the Covenant was signed from Travancore side by a representative of the Ruler. That is by Padmanabha Dasa acting for the Lord.
15. Mr. Venugopal submitted that the date of signing of the Covenant i.e. 1 July 1949 is the cut-off date, after which sovereignty over the two states was transferred to the Indian Government.
16. Here Justice Lalit pointed out that power to pardon was retained by the erstwhile Rulers even after the Covenants were signed and accession agreements were entered into. This status remained until the Constitution was in effect i. e. till 1950.
17. Mr. Venugopal agreed to this and continued his submission, that the Ruler after entering into the Covenant stepped into the role of the then Rajpramukh. He read out portions of the Covenant that spell out the powers and duties of a Rajpramukh.
18. Justice Lalit added to this that even after the Constitution came into force, the post of Rajpramukh would have continued till the lifetime of that Ruler. There was no succession to this post.
19. Mr. Venugopal confirmed the same. He continued to submit that certain things could not have been acceded and therefore were treated separately. He explained that the rights and privileges of a sovereign were transferred but not personal rights of the Padmanabha Dasa.
20. Mr. Venugopal further submitted that the right of the Padmanabha Dasa to serve his Lord could not have been transferred by an accession agreement nor can they be impacted by an amendment to the Constitution.
21. He continued that the concept of 'Ruler' under the Constitution targets only the title and rights of an erstwhile Sovereign. The rights vested in the person or family of those Rulers that are independent of their Sovereign status cannot be impacted.
22. Mr. Venugopal also refuted Mr. Gupta's submission that the system of shebaitship applies to the #padmanabhaswamytemple. He said that the role of royal family and succession to the status of Padmanabha Dasa w.r.t this Temple has been recognised by the TCHRI Act.
23. Mr. Venugopal submitted before the Court, certain affidavits that were submitted by the State Government in a previous litigation before a Trial Court, to support his above submission that the TCHRI Act protects the status and role of Padmanabha Dasa.
24. At this, Justice Lalit said that there is no need for further proof where it is clear that the TCHRI Act recognises the family's role in the Temple's administration and that the Temple vests in them.
25. Mr. Venugopal then submitted that definition of the term 'Ruler' may be changed in the Constitution but until the legal right that flows from the TCHRI Act continues, the right to administer the Temple will not get affected.
26. Justice Lalit then asked Mr. Venugopal whether the family claims any right in the usufruct of the Temple or just the right to administer the Temple.
27. Mr. Venugopal answered that the Royal family only claims the right to remain Padmanabha Dasa i.e. to only administer the Temple and maintain its sanctity. He added that the family has not claimed any rights in the properties of the Temple in past 69 years.
28. Justice Lalit then added that the properties of the Temple would remain vested in the Deity and the family only wants to administer it in accordance with the customs and traditions. The TCHRI Act also seeks to achieve the same.
29. Here, Justice Malhotra pointed out that such a right to administer cannot be vested in the Royal family exclusively, when a Temple where so much public money and stake is involved.
30. To this, Mr. Venugopal submitted that the current legislation (TCHRI Act) gives the Royal family this right. He also added that the family does not want absolute rights either and if the State has a scheme to assist in administration of the Temple, it may be acceptable.
31. Mr. Venugopal further submitted that if State however plans to takeover complete control of the Temple or brush aside the role of Padmanabha Dasa, it would affect the Constitutional rights of the trustees (Royal family).
32. He submitted that Justice Bobde while hearing the Jagganath Puri Petition, had also expressed the same. Mr. Venugopal on insistence from Justice Malhotra explained, that Secular State's role in administration of Temples was questioned by Justice Bobde recently.
33. To this Justice Malhotra referred to the Subramanian Swamy's Petition that seeks removal of control of Devaswom Board over Hindu Temples in Kerala.
34. Justice Malhotra also observed that neither the State nor those who aren't practising Hindus have the right to administer Hindu religious institutions.
35. At this point, @jsaideepak submitted that top 36 members of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam are non-Hindus and have been appointed in violation of the Rules.
36. He also submitted that the @indiccollective has filed a petition before the AP High Court seeking removal of non-Hindu members of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam.
37. He also told the Court that Justice Bobde was one of the authors of the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple judgment delivered in January 2014, where TN HRCE Act's Section 45 that provides for appointment of Executive Officers was in question.
38. @jsaideepak further informed the Court that the Chidambaram judgment also held that Secular State can only regulate or restrict but not supersede or take control of Temple's administration. Article 25(2)(a) of the Constitution also employs the same language.
39. He added that administration of Temples under the colonial control was much better than it is now. The encroachment of British management was limited to only endowed properties but not Temple properties.
40. @jsaideepak said that Indian legislations borrowed the idea but aimed for an overarching control. He added that in the Dayanand Saraswati Petition, erroneous provisions of HRCE Acts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry have been challenged.
41. @jsaideepak submitted that the legislations that were made after the Shirur Math judgment were infact in direct violation of that judgment. He pointed out to the Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Telangana legislations.
42. Mr. Venugopal therafter submitted that anywhere the State has been allowed to interfere with a Temple's administration, the Temple has fall prey to politics and suffered.
43. At this Justice Lalit confirmed that the State cannot take away the proprietary rights of the Travancore Royal family.
44. Mr. Venugopal then submitted that the current Proposal/Scheme submitted to the Court by State Government is also an attempt towards taking over the #padmanabhaswamytemple. He pointed out the portions of the proposal that he had objections to.
45. Mr. Venugopal added that the State government is attempting to shoot from the Bench's shoulder, a target it cannot hit itself given the political repercussions.
46. Justice Lalit enquired as to how much time Mr. Venugopal would need to finish and how much time would be needed for Mr. Dattar and @jsaideepak's submissions.
47. Mr. Venugopal requested for another half an hour to finish his submissions. Mr. Dattar requested for 20-30 mins and @jsaideepak requested for 10 mins to make their final submissions.
48. The Bench decided to adjourn the matters listed for post lunch and finish hearing in the #padmanabhaswamytemple Case.
49. Mr. Venugopal continued with his submissions. He submitted that the TCHRI Act recognises and regulates the personal right of the Royal family to administer the Temple. The Act regulates by providing for appointment of an Executive Officer and constitution of a Committee.
50. Mr. Venugopal then submitted that Mr. Gupta's submissions w.r.t Article 366(22) have created unnecessary doubts, while the provision itself specifies that it defines expressions in context of the Constitution only.
51. He further submitted that 26th Amendment of the Constitution was not an exception to this interpretation. Therefore, amendment to Article 366(22) did not affected the concept of 'Ruler' employed in the TCHRI Act.
52. After the lunch break, Mr. Venugopal continued his submissions. Addressing the submissions made by Mr. Suresh in the previous hearing, Mr. Venugopal said that there is no Constitutional challenge to interpretation of Section 18 of the TCHRI Act.
53. Mr. Venugopal pointed out that there is no judgment of the SC that says that a public Temple cannot be administered by a private entity or Trustees. The judgment quoted by Mr. Suresh does not have the portions that were cited by him to make this submission.
54. With respect to the parens patriae role of the Court, Mr. Venugopal submitted that the role has to be adopted by the Court where there is no specific statute dealing with the Temple's administration.
55. Mr. Venugopal also submitted that expenses made by the State Govt that were quoted by the Respondents while asserting for the State's intervention in the Temple's administration, is considerably nothing as compared to Central Govt's contribution.
56. He submitted before the Court, records that confirmed expenses mainly being made from the Centre's Swadesh Darshan Scheme Fund.
57. Mr. Venugopal submitted that no concrete evidence has been put forward by the Respondents to support their claims of diversion of Temple funds by the Royal family, or that of maladministration.
58. Mr. Venugopal added that inventorisation of Temple properties was attempted in 2007, when a suit was filed against the Royal family alleging attempts to sell the Temple treasure. Therefore, the attempt was failed.
59. Mr. Venugopal submitted that maintenance of certain idols and pillars are still pending as Shilpis were not available for the same. The architecture of the Temple is very old and only one Shilpi is known to be able to repair the same, who isn't available for next five years.
60. At this, Justice Lalit added that in Parsi Temples, there is no one left who knows how to consecrate a Fire. Similarly, if there is only one Shilpi who knows the architecture of this Temple, if something was to happen to him the repair work would never be completed.
61. Mr. Venugopal submitted that he would submit a proposal (Ruler's proposal) to the Court next day i.e. 11 April 2019. He also mentioned few important aspects of their proposed scheme.
62. He said that the proposal would suggest mainly checks and balances, involvement of both Central and State governments in the administration and strong SoPs in place.
63. Justice Lalit enquired Mr. Venugopal's stand on inventory of Kallara B.
64. Mr. Venugopal submitted that the stand of Thanthri after a Devaprashanam will be supported by his client w.r.t Kallara B.
65. Justice Malhotra then pointed out to the Respondents' submissions that Kallara B was opened several times before.
66. Mr. Venugopal submitted that only outer anti-chamber was ever opened. This attempt was made by the Court appointed Expert Committee as well and they failed to enter beyond the outer chamber.
67. Mr. Venugopal submitted that he is averse to the suggested (by Mr. Gupta) Guruvayur Temple scheme as the Zamorin Raja does not have any say in administration of that Temple.
68. With this Mr. Venugopal ended his final submissions.
69. Mr. Dattar began his submissions by addressing Vinod Rai's report. He submitted that the report lacks substantial credibility as auditing protocol was not followed.
70. He also submitted that neither the Amicus nor the Auditor consulted any relevant parties while making their observations. W.r.t income tax returns, Mr. Dattar submitted that the Royal family was not consulted as to why taxes is not paid.
71. Mr. Dattar submitted that there is no taxable income of the Temple as expenditure currently exceeds income. He also submitted before the Court an exemption certificate w.r.t Section 80G of Income Tax Act.
72. Mr Dattar further submitted that Cash counting systems are not flawed (as alleged by Amicus), but the same are mandated under Section 145 of the IT Act.
73. He further submitted that Padaravaka Lands of the Temple were acquired by the State in the name of agrarian reforms, but no rent or dismal rent for those lands is paid to the Temple. How timely the rent is paid can also be questioned.
74. Justice Lalit enquired if these acquired lands were distributed. To this Mr. Dattar and another counsel submitted that the lands were not distributed but have been encroached upon.
75. Mr. Dattar added that without proper records of how much land was acquired (thousands of acres), freeing them from encroachment is now impossible.
76. @jsaideepak submitted that annual rents recieved for about 30000 acres of land was only INR 58500/-. This was received in response to an RTI which he had already submitted before the Court.
77. Mr. Dattar submitted that the Temple had its own security staff to monitor only important entries and exits and no requests were made to the State Government for assistance in those matters.
78. He further submitted that gold cannot leave the Temple, therefore it cannot be alleged that any jewellery was ever taken out.
79. At this, Justice Malhotra pointed out that inventorisation was not being done of those gold items.
80. Mr. Dattar submitted that records were being kept for every gold item and cash that was donated to the Temple. He added that for ages the treasure has been accumulating and no management issues have been experienced.
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