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Friday, June 9, 2023

HRCE bans Rathotsavam, judge hears case through WA call on Sunday and lifts it

In a show of respecting Hindu religious beliefs contrary to the general atmosphere in the judiciary, a judge heard a temple case through a WhatsApp video call on a Sunday. The trustee of the temple had appealed against the DMK government’s decision to not allow the Rathotsavam on the pretext that the environment was not safe. The judge heard the appeal on an urgent basis and ruled that it is the government’s responsibility to make proper arrangements.

The hereditary trustee of the Abheeshta Varadarajaswamy temple at Papparapatti Agraharam in Dharmapuri had filed a petition challenging the order of the HRCE Inspector banning the Rathotsavam of the temple. The HRCE official instructed the temple authorities to not conduct the festival citing that ‘the streets through which it had to pass were very narrow with an open stormwater drain on one side and electricity poles on the other‘.

He cited the bad condition of a part of the road and not enough space to turn the temple car from one street to another as another reason to ban the festival. Srinivasan, the hereditary trustee of the temple had filed an urgent petition fearing his village “might earn the divine wrath” if the Rathotsavam was not held as planned. Taking note of this, justice R Swaminathan, who was in Nagercoil for a marriage, heard the petition through a WhatsApp video call.

“This fervent prayer of the writ petitioner made the court hold the sitting from Nagercoil (where the judge had been to attend a marriage ceremony) and conduct the case through WhatsApp”, the judge noted in the prologue of the verdict. The judge noted that the Advocate General said that the government is only concerned about the safety of the public and that it is not against conducting the festival. Recently 11 Hindus died in an accident where a Rath caught fire after coming into contact with overhead powerlines.

TN government has laid out strict norms to conduct chariot festivals after the mishap. The HRCE official had banned the festival of the Abheeshta Varadarajaswamy temple in this regard. While lamenting about such accidents, the judge observed that ‘the State had the Constitutional obligation to preserve the religious practices of all religions and provide basic amenities to the devotees when they gather in large numbers during temple festivals’.

He also cited a Supreme Court verdict from 2018 in which it was held that ‘the government was duty-bound to make proper arrangements and sanction necessary funds without fear of violation of the concept of secularism‘. Directing the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) to disconnect the power supply during the Rathotsavam as a safety measure and struck down the ban.

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