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“Don’t exclude non-Hindus from auction process for shop leases in temple”: SC bench of Justices Chandrachud and A. S. Bopanna rules in favor of Muslim petitioner

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of a Muslim petitioner and permitted people from all religions to participate in the process of auction of leases of shops in the Sri Bramaramamba Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple at Kurnool Andhra Pradesh and in the shopping complex, until the time SC delivers a final judgement on the matter, reports

The AP government in 2015 had issued an order prohibiting non-Hindus in the said auction process; in 2019 the AP High Court dismissed a petition filed against the govt order, but SC had stayed the AP High Court order in 2020. The petitioner Sayyad Jani Basha had later filed a contempt petition alleging that AP govt and temple authorities were not honoring the stay ordered by the SC.

” While it may be that within temple premises, one may not say something which would be offensive to the faith or that there may be no liquor or gambling, it cannot be that you will not sell bamboo, flowers or children’s toys if you don’t belong to the Hindu religion,” remarked Justice D. Y. Chandrachud.

The bench of Justices Chandrachud and A. S. Bopanna was hearing a contempt petition filed in the SLP (Special Leave Petiton) where the top court had in January, 2020 stayed the September, 2019 judgment of the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissing the writ petition to declare the 2015 G.O.Ms (government orders) issued by the state of Andhra Pradesh prohibiting non-Hindus in participation of tender-cum- auction process of shops or otherwise to obtain lease or license to carry on business in immovable property belonging to the temple, as violative of Articles 14 and 15.

The original govt. notification had incorporated Rule 4 (2) and Rule 18 of A.P. Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Immovable Properties and Other Rights (other than Agricultural Lands) Leases and Licenses Rules, 2003 prohibiting non-Hindus in participation of tender – cum – auction process of shops or to obtain lease or license to carry on business in immovable property belonging to respondent No.3 – temple,

The petitioner Sayyad Jani Basha sought contempt action against the Principal Secretary to the Department of Revenue(Endowments) of Andhra Pradesh Government, Commissioner of Endowments, and Executive Officer of the Sri Bramaramba Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple for alleged violation of the stay order passed by the Supreme Court.

“Pending the adjudication, you have to make an allotment to all erstwhile tenants and those otherwise entitled irrespective of their religious affiliation,” Justice Chandrachud told Senior Advocate C. S. Vaidyanathan for the respondents- the concerned state authorities and the temple management.

The bench then Proceeded to dictate its order-

“We have heard counsel appearing for the petitioners and Senior Advocate C. S. Vaidyanathan for the respondents. By an order of this court dated 27 January 2020, the judgment of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh dated 27 September 2019 on a writ petition has been stayed. Thereafter, there was an order of this court dated 8 February 2021 in a contempt petition. In the face of the above orders, it is impermissible for the respondents/contemners to have either compelled the license-holders from participating in the auction or from being allotted leases by the state.

“In the circumstances, in order to enable the respondents/contemners to obviate any coercive steps being taken against them for breach of the orders of this court, we direct that none of the tenants/shop holders shall be excluded from participating in the auction or from the grant of leases solely on the ground of their religion . Mr Vaidyanathan submits that the respondents were in a quandary as a result of a subsequent order of a single judge of the High Court dated 21 October 2021, and that there was no intent to omit complying with the order of this court. It needs no clarification that the order of this court would will have precedence, notwithstanding anything contained in any other order of the High Court.”

Only Hindu religious institutions fall under the control of the secular state, and the management of these govt-controlled temples is often riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Increasingly, non-Hindus are demanding employment in govt.-controlled temples, or in institutions funded through temple donations.

Minor religious institutions are mostly free of govt. control. Only the Muslim Waqf Board has some govt. involvement – even there, a recent move by Kerala govt. to appoint Waqf Board employees through Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) met with stiff opposition after a rumour was started that this would allow non-Muslims to become Waqf Board employees.

All over the world, secularism means separation of Church (religious institutions) and State. In the secular Republic of India, it means control of Hindu religious institutions by the State.

In no other democracy, apart from ours, do governments exercise control over places of worship or institutions managed by religious bodies; they are treated just like any other private organization. But in Bharat, major temples have now become almost like public sector units, with actual practicing Hindus having little or no say.

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