In a landmark legal decision, the Madras High Court has directed the Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department to transfer the entire administration of Sengol Adheenam Mutt in Tuticorin district to the pontiff within 12 weeks. The 103rd pontiff of Thirukayilaya Parambarai SrilaSri Sivaprakasa Desika Sathiyagnana Pandara Sannidhi Swamigal, filed a petition in response to allegations of improper changes to the Mutt’s assets during the tenure of the 101st pontiff.
The Tamil Nadu government had assumed control in 1960, citing concerns about the alleged improper alienation of the Mutt’s properties by its 101st pontiff. The writ petition filed challenged the order dismissing the application seeking cancellation of the administration scheme framed in 1960 and sought to permit the petitioner to have and hold the entire administration of the Mutt.
As reported in The Organiser, Justice S. Sounthar, in an exhaustive 84-page ruling, underscored the constitutional safeguards extended to religious institutions as enshrined in Article 26 of the Indian Constitution. The critical question of the state’s authority to interfere with the secular affairs of such institutions and the time limitations on such interventions was emphasised.
The court particularly emphasised Section 65 of the HR&CE Act, 1959, which grants the Commissioner the power to form a group of individuals to aid in administration but explicitly excludes the authority to appoint a manager or executive officer for day-to-day affairs.
Sections 58(2)(d) and 3(b) of the HR and CE Act, 1951, which had initially granted such powers, were struck down by the courts and subsequently deleted in the 1959 Act.
Justice Sounthar remarked that the Commissioner’s order to continue administering the Mutt’s secular affairs alongside its head was without jurisdiction and clearly violated the current Act. He stressed the Mutt’s long history, tracing its origins back several centuries.
The judge mentioned, “The 101st Head of the Mutt, who abdicated his position, subsequently filed a suit seeking a declaration that he was both spiritual and secular head of the Sengol Adheenam Mutt.”
After assuming charge as the 103rd Head of the Mutt in 2016, the petitioner made a representation to the Commissioner stating that “no Advisory Committee was appointed for the past 54 years, and therefore, the scheme has become redundant.”
The judge concluded, “The impugned order is held to be violative of fundamental rights available to the petitioner under Article 26 (d) of the Constitution of India. It is repugnant to the present HR and CE Act, which does not contain a provision for the appointment of an officer while framing a scheme for Mutts. The writ petition stands Allowed by quashing the impugned order passed by the 1st respondent, it is declared that the scheme framed by the 1st respondent became redundant on May 30, 1962, after the expiry of the term of office of the First Advisory Committee constituted under the scheme.”
The judge directed HR and CE to take steps to hand over the affairs of the mutt to its 103rd head within 12 weeks. This legal ruling not only safeguards the autonomy of religious institutions but also sets a precedent for the limitations on state interference in their affairs, reinforcing the constitutional protections granted to such institutions under Article 26.