-Report by Ojas Bhatnagar
A bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice N Mala held that identification of temples constructed must be under the Agamas rules, not by the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020. It has been held in the case of All India Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Seva Sangam v. State of Tamil Nadu.
A plea was filed, seeking a direction against the state and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments departments from appointing Archakas (Priests) and other traditional personnel at their discretion. There was a batch of PIL petitions from All India Adi Saiva Sivachariyagal Nala Sangam by the general secretary and 14 others. It wanted to restrain the authorities concerned from appointing Archakas as held by the Supreme Court in another case.
The petitioners argued that Qualification under the rules of 2020 cannot apply for the post of Archakas to be appointed in Temples where construction and worship are done as per the Agamas. The counsel for the petitioner made various arguments referring to the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959. Reference to the case of Seshammal and others and Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam and others, supra was made, by citing certain paragraphs to seek the protection of the practice of Agamas for appointment of Archaka/Poojari. Therefore, the
prayer was to strike down the provisions under challenge as well as the advertisement issued by the Executive Officer called for applications for appointment to the post of Archaka/Poojari. The rights of appointment lies with the temple trustees and the government is trying to take over these rights.
The Petitioners also argue that they want to constitute a committee headed by a Retired High Court Judge to identify the temples where construction and worship are done by the agamas, to prove that the Supreme Court had allowed in its judgment, the appointment of an Archakas as per the Agamas. There are various agamas, and the identification of temples about agamas is a pre-requisite for the appointment of Archakas because different agamas follow different worshipping procedures. Therefore, the individual appointments of Archakas should be allowed.
In the State of Tamil Nadu, there are more than 35000 temples under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments
Department [HR & CE Department]. Identification of those temples constructed as per the Agamas and further bifurcation will solve the issues often brought before this court to challenge the appointment of Archaka/Poojari. But this task is very vast and unreasonable.
The court dealt with the constitutional validity of a lot of provisions of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020. Article 26 of the Indian Constitution states that every religious entity has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes and manage and govern its own affairs by how the religion denotes it. The challenge to certain provisions is not justified. However, we apply the doctrine of reading down to protect the petitioners’ rights guaranteed under Articles 16(5), 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
“The appointment of Archakas in the temples constructed as per Agamas would be governed by the Agamas and for that the Rules under challenge would not apply. It would otherwise offend Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India”
The Government framed the rules to identify the eligibility and qualifications of officers and employed their officers to the temple. This act by the Government is wrong.
“It is, however, necessary to apply the doctrine of reading down of those provisions with regard to the appointment of Archakas in the temple or group of temples, which were constructed as per Agamas,”
The appointment of Archakas in the temple or group of temples constructed under the respective Agama shall, accordingly should be governed by the Agamas and not by Rules 7 and 9 of the Rules of 2020. Hence, all the writ petitions are disposed of.