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SC isn’t interfering with worship at Ujjain Mahakaleshwar temple

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Temple authority adopts expert recommendations to protect the lingam; court approves but its unofficial gag order leads to confusion.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has not banned the use of milk and gangajal on the deity of the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain.

Contrary to some reports, the bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and L. Nageswara Rao has merely approved the temple authority’s adoption of recommendations made by an expert body to “protect the lingam of Mahakaleshwar”.

The central government had proposed the setting up of an expert body after the temple authorities took note of reports that the deity was shrinking.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta represented the Centre. Two experts each from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) were nominated by the Centre in August. Apart from ASI and GSI, the ministries of culture and mines were also made parties to the case.

Some of the recommendations of the expert committee specify the substances that can be brought in contact with the stone structure in the sanctum sanctorum to protect it from deterioration. Use of water with safe pH levels and the reducing the amount of water that is poured on the deity are recommended.

‘Gag order’

The confusion on what the order said seems to be due to an unofficial gag order by the court. In the last hearing, Justice Mishra, who headed the bench, told lawyers on the case to not discuss the case with the media.

“The court has orally directed all parties and their lawyers not to speak to the media on this issue. Justice Mishra also said in the last hearing that media should not report this issue till the final ruling is out,” advocate Rajat Nair, appearing for the central government, said.

However, there is no judicial order to this effect.

“In fact, the temple authorities said they specifically raised the issue that the case could be misreported and sought a gag order,” Nair added.

Three lawyers told ThePrint that the notion that the apex court was dictating the manner of worship in a Hindu temple was false, and that it was not “interfering”. The lawyers refused to be identified due to the apex court’s gag order.

“All parties are on board to restore the pride and majesty of the temple,” a senior advocate appearing for one of the parties said.

Not the first time

This is not the first time that the apex court has gagged the media without passing orders that can be challenged in court.

Former Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar would often turn to journalists in the gallery and “request media friends” to not report the case. On one occasion, it was when he had admonished a litigant for filing a frivolous public interest litigation.

In another instance, such a request made while hearing a case of sedition against Hardik Patel.

“Courts cannot make such verbal requests simply because they cannot do anything if they aren’t followed. It is detrimental to the court itself – when you prevent legitimate reporting, you will only help spread misinformation,” said Alok Prasanna Kumar, senior resident fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

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