The A.P. High Court stayed all further activity on ‘Ananda Vimana Swarnamayam', the ambitious project of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) for gold plating the inner temple of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala.
The interim stay order was given on Wednesday by a Division Bench comprising Justice B. Prakash Rao and Justice Reddy Kantha Rao while admitting a writ petition filed by G. Raghava Reddy of Devalaya Parirakshana Samiti. The project, estimated to cost at least Rs. 100 crore was launched when Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was Chief Minister for gold plating the walls of Ananda Nilayam stretching to around 10,000 sq. feet.
The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of sections 97 and 97 B of the A.P. Charitable and Hindu Religious and Endowments Act, 1987 that empower the TTD Board and a committee constituted in relation to the Board's administration. He contended that the Board did not apply its mind while passing the resolution in September 2008. On an earlier occasion, the TTD had shelved the project based upon the opinion of Agama pundits whereas no such consultations were held now.
The TTD Board, he said, was not authorised to take up such a project which involves fixing heavy gold-coated copperplates into the walls of the sanctum sanctorum by drilling bolts. This amounted to interfering with the religious functions of the temple, besides being a clear violation of the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Historical Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
It was the duty of every Indian citizen to preserve these inscriptions as a witness and monuments of national cultural importance for posterity. The loss of such inscriptions would be irreparable to the cultural heritage of the country.
The action was violative of article 25 and 27 of Constitution of India. The petitioner averred that secular state and its functionaries cannot indulge in such activities.
During the course of the arguments, the Bench said there was too much meddling in the temple affairs by the government officers. Justice Prakash Rao recalled incident wherein the deity of a temple was painted yellow using enamel paint after the Endowments officer felt that applying turmeric everyday was not necessary.
The Bench said that the issue of gold plating involved religious practices, besides beliefs and sentiments of devotees. It said a prima facie case was made out and that the matter needed serious examination.
Notices were issued to the respondents who were directed to file counter affidavits and the case listed for the month of June.