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Natarajar temple issue: apex court notice to State

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A view of the Natarajar temple in Chidambaram.
A view of the Natarajar temple in Chidambaram.

J. Venkatesan

Podhu Dikshitars oppose appointment of Executive Officer

The Bench directed the matter to be tagged with other appeals and petitions on which notice had already been issued

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government on a writ petition filed by Sri Sabanayagar temple (Natarajar temple) in Chidambaram challenging the constitutional validity of Section 45 of the TN Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, which deals with appointment of Executive Officer (EO) to a temple.

A Bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice G.S. Singhvi issued notice after hearing senior counsel R. Venkataramani for the temple, represented by Podhu Dikshitars, and senior counsel A. Mariarputham for the State.

The Bench directed the matter to be tagged with other appeals and petitions on which notice had already been issued.

The State in exercise of its powers under Section 45 of the Act appointed an Executive Officer to the Natarajar temple and the Madras High Court had upheld this appointment. Assailing this provision, the temple, in its writ petition, stated that this Section provided unguided and arbitrary power to the Executive Officer for usurping the right of administration vested with the Podu Dikshitars for over 100 years.

The temple said that as early as in March 1890 the Madras High Court, in the case of ‘Natesa vs Ganapathi, had held that from time immemorial the Dikshitars held both the offices – of ‘Archaka’ and ‘Dharmakartha’ – in the institution and the net income of the temple derived from general offerings was recognised as the means of their livelihood. “The Dikshitars are collectively and individually entitled to the beneficial interests in the offerings made to God and in the collections made for ‘archanas’ and ‘aradhanas.”

It said the Dikshitars would be deprived of their source of living if the Executive Officer was appointed to the temple. Except the Tiruvilakku manyam, the temple did not own any property which generated income. About 250 families, comprising about 1,500 members, were dependent on of the earnings of the Dikshitars from the temple.

The temple said that deprivation of the right to manage the temple by the Dikshitars and vesting it with an Executive Officer would result in serious inroads into the rights of the Dikshitars guaranteed under Article 25 as a religious denomination. It sought a declaration that Section 45 of the Act was ultra vires Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

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