New Delhi: The Sewayats of Bankey Bihari temple in Mathura have taken objection to the Allahabad High Court’s proposal to utilise the shrine’s funds for the development of the area.
In a petition filed before the Supreme Court, the Sewayats — who describe themselves as the custodians of the deity for the last five decades — have challenged the high court’s 20 December, 2022 suggestion that called for a detailed plan for using the funds lying in Bankey Bihar’s bank account for “procurement and development.”
As per an earlier HC order of 18 October, 2022, the expenses for procurement of land to develop amenities around the temple were to be borne out by the Uttar Pradesh government. The two orders were given on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed to improve the infrastructure in and outside the temple.
Assailing the December order, the Sewayats said, the HC issued it without allowing their plea to implead and hear them in the case. The Sewayats apprehend that the court proceedings are an attempt by the state to take over the affairs of the temple management in the garb of development and maintenance.
If the HC proposal to use the temple funds is implemented, the state will exercise absolute powers in the temple administration, which will be “in total breach” of the Sewayats’ faith, the petition has contended.
The Sewayats complained that the HC’s decision to proceed with the hearing without making them a part in the case “will have a substantial impact on the administration” of the temple and “worship of the deity.”
On Monday, the petition was mentioned by advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi before a bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, who agreed to hear the case next Monday. Chaturvedi urged the bench to hear the matter because it involved temple funds and its usage.
According to the petition, the Sewayats — who are Goswamis from the city — have been custodians of the deity since 1863 when the temple was constructed by their ancestors. Due to disagreement between different branches of Goswamis regarding the temple management, a civil suit was filed before a munsif court in Mathura. This resulted in a decree in March 1939 by way of a scheme of management which has been followed till date.
In accordance with the scheme, the management of the temple was to comprise seven members — four Goswamis elected through voting and three nominated by the Goswamis who make it to the committee.
“Hence, the Goswamis have exclusively been managing the day-to-day running of the temple for centuries, and under an order of the court since 1939,” the petition submitted.
But in 2016 due to a dispute regarding nominated members, the matter reached the Allahabad High Court, which nominated a civil judge of Mathura as a receiver, in 2019. The Sewayats then approached the high court to conduct elections, but the matter remains undecided.
With regard to the present petition on the improvement of amenities, the Sewayats have “suspected” the petitioners in the case and claimed they have “personal animus in the control of the mandir being vested with the state government.”
The Sewayats raised another grievance against the HC and assailed it for “incorrectly” recording submissions on their behalf. On two dates — 28 November and 20 December, 2022 — the petitioners added the HC wrongly stated in its orders that the process suggested by the state to carry out development work will not impact the rights of Sewayats.
The temple funds, the Sewayats added, are used to pay salaries to those employed to manage the shrine and the daily affairs. No withdrawals are made from the principal fund, the Sewayats have stated in their petition.
The suggestion to bear the expenses for development work from temple funds is in direct contravention to the state’s own submission that all expenses will be undertaken by the state government, the Sewayats submitted. “Therefore, the HC has grossly erred by going into the question of usage of deity’s funds for development of the area around the mandir without first impleading and hearing the petitioners.”
Though the civil judge, who was appointed as the temple receiver in 2016, is a party in the pending proceedings before the HC, no one has been appearing on his behalf there, the petition said. Hence, they contended, the HC proceedings are being carried out without any input by the “most essential stakeholders” and is an attempt to take over the affairs of the temple by the state.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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