New Delhi: The BJP-ruled government in Uttarakhand has opposed senior party leader Subramanian Swamy’s petition in the high court, which challenged a new law — Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019 — enacted to manage 51 temples in the state, including Kedarnath and Badrinath shrines, and accused him of “scoring political and personal interests”.
The state government stated this in an affidavit filed by the Uttarakhand cultural secretary. It was placed before a bench led by Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan on 11 June.
The state has asked for the dismissal of Swamy’s petition.
The government also took strong exception to a series of tweets made by Swamy against the law. The tweets have been annexed along with the affidavit.
Swamy moved the high court in February this year. A notice was issued to the state on 26 February based on his petition in which he argued the Act violates Articles 31 A(1) (b), Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
Article 31 is regarding the right of private ownership, while Articles 25 and 26 empower religious institutions and believers’ right to manage and conduct their institutions.
Passed in 2019, the Act allows MPs, MLAs, and representatives appointed by the state to manage the temples. According to the Act, the state’s chief minister will head the Devasthanam Board, comprising many government officials. If the chief minister is not a Hindu, the senior-most Hindu minister will head the board.
In its defence, the state government said the law provides a rejuvenation scheme for Char Dham and other temples in Uttarakhand, and to manage the same through a Devasthanam Management Board, as is done to run shrines such as the Vaishno Devi Mata Temple in Jammu and Kashmir, Sai Baba temple in Maharashtra, Jagannath temple in Puri and Somnath temple in Gujarat.
Apart from saying Swamy’s petition is not in public interest, the state also claimed he moved the court because he was not consulted when the law was formulated and this annoyed him.
This fact, the government said, was established by Swamy’s critical tweets against the Uttarakhand’s advocate general.
Swamy’s petition fails to show how the public will not benefit by the law, said the state.
Also, he has filed it at the “instigation” of a group of people whose private interests get adversely affected with the enforcement of a new management.
His PIL, it said, is not maintainable under the high court rules and liable to be dismissed. It quoted Rule 10 to say that only a “public spirited person” with “genuine interest in the issue” can file a PIL.
But Swamy being a political person does not qualify as a “public spirited person” under the rules and is fighting a proxy petition, the state claimed. He has no interest in the welfare of thousands of pilgrims, it added.
Calling the PIL as misconceived, the state thrashed Swamy’s contention that it does not have the legislative competence to enact the law.
“The Act is well within the legal framework and does not violate any of the fundamental rights of the petitioner nor of any other person,” it said.
‘No law casts duty upon state to consult Swamy’
Swamy’s tweets, the state said, clearly reveal he is upset for not being consulted at the time when the law was under consideration.
“That it is relevant to point out here that the petitioner after enactment of the Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019, did several tweets and in his tweets he has stated that Act is wholly mischievous, unconstitutional and against the ideology of Hindutva.”
A specific tweet regarding the advocate general of the state not consulting Swamy has been cited in the affidavit.
“It is also worth mentioning here that no law casts any duty on the state nor on the learned advocate general to consult the petitioner before promulgating the Act,” the state said.
Law does not divest rights of trustees, priests
The need for a new law to restructure administrative arrangements for the Char Dham yatra was felt after the devastating floods of 2013, the state claimed.
The yatra includes a trip to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.
Under this framework, steps will be undertaken to rejuvenate Yamunotri and Gangotri, besides the other shrines falling on the famous religious circuits for pilgrims, the Uttarakhand government said.
It will also ensure a better administration, management, maintaining transparency, checking misappropriation of funds and property, better facilities, convenience and hygiene to the pilgrims.
The law is merely an attempt to collaborate with the trustees in administering Char Dham Devasthanam, and not intended to divest their existing rights and that of the priests or pandas, the state said.
“Their religious activities have not been touched, nor have the powers of the trustees been suspended. The power has been given to the CEO by the state government only in the management of the Devasthanam,” the affidavit said.
There was no violation of any constitutional provision, it assured the court.
“Even after the enactment of the Act, the worship, dakshina and other types of religious rights and duties vest with the local people,” the state explained.