The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved verdict on a batch of appeals challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s order appointing Executive Officer to manage the affairs and properties of the Chidambaram Natarajar temple in Tamil Nadu.

A Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde reserved judgment at the conclusion of arguments by counsel for all the parties. Earlier senior counsel R. Venkataramani, appearing for Podu Dikshitars, contended that `Podu Dikshitars’ were a religious denomination as per Article 26 of the Constitution “which guarantees right to establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes.” As far as the right of Podu Dikshitars to administer the Natarajar temple as a distinct religious denomination was concerned, this right had been recognised by the Supreme Court in its judgment in 1952, he said. Mr. Venkataramani said the association of Podu Dikshitars with the temple was more than 2,000 years old and it could not be disputed that originally the task of offering worship and administering the temple was entrusted to Podu Dikshitars.

He submitted that it could be seen from records that none of the categories of properties were in the hands of Podu Dikshitars. Further neither the immovable properties granted for the temple benefit nor the Kattalais set up by private parties for performance of religious services were under Dikshitar's control, he argued. The failure if any in regard to administration of such properties could not be the reason for interfering with their right to continue with the maintenance of the temple, he said.

Appearing for U. Arumugasamy, who is supporting the appointment of Executive Officer, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves disputed the very claim of Podu Dikshitars that they were a religious denomination within the meaning of Article 26 of the Constitution. He argued that for declaring a religious denomination one must follow a separate sect or a guru, but in this case Dikshitars were not a separate sect as they were only worshippers of Lord Shiva. He said worshippers of Lord Shiva and worshippers of Lord Vishnu could be called as two groups but they could not be declared as a religious denomination. He justified government’s interference for maintenance of the temple.

It was the argument of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, one of the appellants that an attempt was made after Independence to bring the temple administration under State control in August 1951 but the Supreme Court had held that the Podu Dikshitars had a right to administer the temple as a religious denomination. Quoting the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, Dr. Swamy said “Section 107 specifically bars the application of the Act to institutions coming under the purview of or enjoying the protection of Article 26 of the Constitution.” If there were allegations of misappropriation, it should be dealt with under the provisions of Indian Penal Code and not by taking over the temple administration, he argued.

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