The royal family of Travancore asserted in the Supreme Court that the Lord Padmanabha is considered the family deity of the erstwhile royal family, and the Padmanabha Swami temple is a public temple, and no claim can probably be made by the royal family or anyone to owning the temple or its treasures. The royal family as the Padmanabhadasa sought to recover the right as a trustee of the temple to manage and administer it, which has unfortunately been taken away by the Kerala High Court judgment and vested, in the State Government as the successor ‘Ruler’. The royal family claimed the right to perform all the traditional rituals and ceremonies in the same manner as have been performed for hundreds of years.
During the course of proceedings, a note was given by the counsel for the appellant royal family about the composition of committees to take care of the affairs of the temple. The note was essentially in response to the affidavit of the Chief Secretary of the State of Kerala which was filed on 06.11.2014. The note suggested constitution of an Administrative Committee and an Advisory Committee as under:
The Petitioner, hereinafter referred to as the “Trustee”, is placing below for the consideration of this Hon’ble Court his proposal for the control and supervision of the affairs of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple (the “Temple”). The Petitioner will file an appropriate undertaking in terms of the proposal with such modifications as may be directed by this Hon’ble Court. 2. The Trustee shall delegate his powers of administration under Section 18(2) of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 (the “Act”) to a Committee (the “Administrative Committee”) which shall administer the Temple through an Executive Officer to be appointed by the Committee. 3. The administrative Committee shall consist of five members: a) a retired Indian Administrative Service Officer of the rank of Secretary to Government of Kerala (“the State Government”) to be nominated by the Trustee in consultation with Government of Kerala who shall be the Chairperson of the Committee; (b) one member nominated by the trustee; (c) one member nominated by the Government of Kerala; (d) one member nominated by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India; and (e) the Chief Thantri of the temple. 4. All members of the Administrative Committee shall be Hindus, who shall satisfy the requirements under the proviso to Section 2(aa) of the Act, as amended, for being appointed as members of the Travancore Devaswom Board.
On all policy matters relating to temple administration including the matters referred to in paragraph 11 below, the Trustee shall be guided by the advice of the Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple Committee constituted under Section 20 of the Act (the “Advisory Committee”).
The Advisory Committee shall consist of: (a) A retired High Court Judge who shall be nominated by the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court and who shall be the Chairperson of the Committee. (b) One eminent person to be nominated by the Trustee; and (c) A reputed chartered Accountant to be nominated by the Chairperson in consultation with the Trustee. The provisions in paragraphs 4 and 5 above shall apply equally to the Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee shall ensure that regular annual audit of the finances of the Temple is completed by a reputed accounting firm, which shall be changed every three years. The Administrative Committee shall not take any decision on the following matters of policy except after obtaining the approval of the Trustee: (a) Any expense item exceeding Rs.15 lakhs per month; (b) Any one-time expense of Rs.1 Crore; (c) Any major renovation/expansion of the temple; (d) Any changes in the Standard Operating Procedures; and (e) Any fundamental changes in the character of the Temple that would affect the religious sentiments of its devotees.
The most interesting part is the proposal made by the State of Kerala to offer an alternative arrangement of temple administration on the lines of Guruvayoor Devaswom, Managing committee which was submitted before the Supreme Court. State Government note submitted read as:
It is proposing the following administrative/legal alternative measures for the administration of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple by forming a Managing Committee on the model of the Guruvayur Devaswom Managing Committee, constituted for administering the activities of Guruvayur Temple.
- The Committee constituted shall consist of 8 members and shall be composed as follows: a) The Padhmanabhadasa b) The Senior Thantri – ex-officio c) Not more than 5 members, of whom one shall be a member of Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe and one shall be a woman nominated by the Hindus among the Council of Ministers from among persons having interest in the Temple. d) A representative of the employee of the Devaswom nominated by the Hindus among the Council of Ministers.
The Supreme Court didn’t entertain the State Government proposal of alternative administrative arrangement, it is very vital to observe this aspect as the Devaswom Boards which include members of the ruling dispensations from time to time, have often miserably failed to live up to the expectations of the devotees and their ideological stance have pushed many of the temples into perpetual chaos, when a decisive stand was demanded from them to protect the customs and traditions of the temples, the most recent example being the Sabarimala issue.
The court further observed “Having given our anxious consideration to the rival suggestions, the composition of the Committees as suggested by the appellants deserves acceptance, especially in light of the conclusions arrived by us that the Managership or the Shebaitship of the Temple continues with the Family. As against the administration contemplated by Chapter III of Part I of the TC Act in the hands of the Ruler of Travancore in absolute terms, the course now suggested by the appellants is quite balanced. The Composition of the Administrative Committee as suggested is broad based and would not be loaded in favour or against the Trustee.
The court again observed that “considering the fact that the present interim Administrative Committee headed by the District Judge is in session for the last more than five years, and various District Judges as Chairpersons of the Committee conducted themselves quite well, in our view, a minor change in the Administrative Committee suggested by the appellants in their Note is called for. Instead of a retired Indian Administrative Service Officer of the rank of Secretary to the Government of Kerala as the Chairperson of the Administrative Committee, in the interest of justice, the District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram shall be the Chairperson of the Administrative Committee. Needless to say that the present Chairperson of the Interim Administrative Committee shall continue to be the Chairperson so long as he holds the post of the District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram.
The composition of the Advisory Committee will ensure that the administration of the Temple is conducted in a fair and transparent manner. We, therefore, accept the suggestions made by the appellants in their Note adverted to in detail in paragraph 47 hereinabove with regard to the constitution of the Administrative Committee and the Advisory Committee subject to the modification with respect to the Chairperson of the Administrative Committee as stated in the preceding paragraph. The appellant No.1 shall file an appropriate affidavit of undertaking within four weeks of this judgment in terms of paragraph 1 of the Note and also agreeing to the modification as stated above. The affidavit of undertaking so filed shall be binding on the appellant No.1 and all his successors.”