A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Monday directed the State government to immediately take steps to constitute a body corporate or trust or any other authority on the lines of the Guruvayur Devaswom to take over control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, its assets and management.

The Bench comprising Justice C.N. Ramachandran Nair and Justice K. Surendra Mohan issued the directive while allowing a petition filed by T.P. Sundara Rajan, a lawyer in Thiruvananthapuram. The court ordered that this should be done in three months.

The petitioner sought a directive to the Kerala government to take over the temple administration as he was aggrieved by its failure to protect the temple's assets and treasures.

The court also disposed of the writ petition filed by Uthradam Thirunaal Marthanda Varma, managing trustee of the temple, seeking to quash all civil cases pending against the present management in various courts.

According to Mr. Marthanda Varma, the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act 1950 (TC Act) was enacted by incorporating a covenant that vested the management of the temple with the ruler of Travancore.

This was done as the Travancore King wanted to retain control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple after the agreement of accession was signed. The agreement integrated the princely States of Travancore and Cochin as one State.

Public resentment against the present management surfaced when Mr. Marthanda Varma stated that the treasures of the temple were family properties of the erstwhile royal family, and hence, various civil cases were filed.

The court observed that if the temple was a family property of the royal family, then there was no need for a specific provision in the accession agreement or in the TC Act.

It concluded that the last ruler was only a trustee who had retained the control of the temple for the benefits of devotees, State and the public at large. The TC Act also established that this was a public temple.

Description of 'ruler'

Mr. Marthanda Varma or his successor in the royal family would not come within the description of “ruler” as defined under Article 366(22) of the Constitution. And after the last ruler, no one could acquire the status of ruler, which was not heritable. Therefore, neither Mr. Marthanda Varma nor his family could claim control or management of the temple under the TC Act.

The court said that according to the Constitutional Twenty-Sixth Amendment Act of 1971, the President of India ceased to have authority to recognise any person as a ruler of an Indian State or a successor of such ruler.

The court said that on the death of the person who remained recognised by the President as ruler prior to the commencement of the Constitution would not have any successor in the capacity as ruler of the State.

It added that Article 366(22) abolished the status of ruler, and no one could acquire the status after commencement of the Constitution, much less through succession.

The judges held that Mr. Marthanda Varma could not “step into the shoes of the last ruler to claim management” of the temple by relying on the powers conferred under the TC Act. Therefore, he had no authority to appoint an executive officer.

The court observed that after the death of the last ruler of Travancore, the present ruler happened to be the State government. It said that the State government, being secular, could not run the temple, and so much so, it was for it to constitute a trust or statutory body temple.

The court also directed the authority or trust to be constituted to open all vaults, make an inventory of all the articles, and exhibit them in a museum to be set up by such authority for public viewing. The government should also consider handing over the security of the temple to a team of police or provide police assistance to the security staff.

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