Civil Appeal No. 1013-1015 of 1987
- (1997) 4 JT 124
- (1997) 3 SCALE 1
- (1997) 2 SCR 1086
- (1997) 4 Supreme 388
- (1997) 4 SCC 606
- Hon’ble Justice K. Ramaswamy
- Hon’ble Justice K. Venkataswami
- Hon’ble Justice G. B. Pattanaik
Constitution of India, 1950 – Article 14, Article 15, Article 16, Article 25, Article 26. Uttar Pradesh Sri Kashi Vishwanatha Temple Act, 1983– Section 16, Section 17, Section 18, Section 19, Section 20, Section 20(1), Section 20(2), Section 21, Section 22, Section 22(2), Section 23(2), Section 24(2), Section 25(8), Section 3, Section 4, Section 4(2), Section 5, Section 6, Section 6(1).
Brief Facts and Procedural History
The Supreme Court has received an appeal of the Allahabad High Court’s decision in this case. The two Honorable Justices of the High Court disagreed on whether the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is a place of worship, but they agreed that Parliament has the authority to pass laws governing its administration. The Pujaris commanded pilgrimages, the precincts were filthy, and Lord Shiva’s stolen jewellery was allowed into the premises. A committee was established with the recommendation that the government should seize control of the temple. Accordingly, two ordinances were promulgated one after the other until the Parliament enacted the Act for the management of the temple by the Government.
Issues before the Court
The Uttar Pradesh Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983, which was to manage the temple of Lord Vishwanath, also known as Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi, has been questioned for its constitutionality.
The following issues were also up for decision by the Supreme Court:
- Whether Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple is a denominational temple.
- Do followers of Lord Vishwanath have the constitutionally protected fundamental right to manage their religious affairs and manage the Temple’s assets following the law as guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution?
- How important and integral are the traditional practices of the religion and religious practice protected by Articles 25 and 26?
- Since it does not affect any of the rights of the religious denominations protected by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, 1950, the Act passed to manage the temple is constitutional.
- A denominational temple cannot be found at the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Shaivites are Hindus, and as such, they belong to no particular denomination. They are a part of the religion known as Hinduism. The Act protects the right to participate in ceremonies, rituals, or acts of worship that adhere to long-standing customs.
- Although Section 22 is regulated and extends the right to the means of subsistence under Article 21, the rights of those who work as archakas are unaffected.
- The right to enter the temple, interact with Lord Sri Vishwanath’s Linga, and perform worship there is extended to everyone who practices Hinduism. The Act mandates that the State protect all manifestations of Hindu Lord Vishwanath worship, regardless of whether they are carried out following Hindu Sastras, regional custom, or temple-specific usage. It is not restricted to a particular sect or denomination. Shaiva worshipers are Hindus in general and do not belong to any particular denominational sect or group.
- State regulation may apply to all secular activities that are connected to religion but do not directly relate to it or constitute an essential component of it. However, what constitutes an essential component of religion can be ascertained primarily from that religion’s doctrines following its tenets, historical context, change in evolved process, etc. The concept of essentiality in and of itself does not matter. When determining whether a particular religious matter, practice, or belief is an essential element of the religion, one consideration to make is whether the community as a whole sees the matter or practice as essential.
The term “denomination” is extensively covered in this instance. A group that exists as a sect, group, class, or kind and has unique characteristics that set it apart from other groups is referred to as a denomination. The Constitution Bench had to decide on the precise definition of the term “denomination” in The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras vs. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt. It was decided, by the definition provided in the Oxford Dictionary, that the word “denomination” refers to a group of people or a class who are united under the same name as a religious group or body and who are known by a distinctive name. Even though Hinduism has many well-known denominations, not all of these groups are considered to be part of the denomination as a whole.
Every court ruling regarding a temple’s religious affiliation turns on the followers of that religion’s central doctrine. The denomination is not developed in a single day. The rituals will undoubtedly resemble Hindu religious rituals in general. However, that in and of itself is not sufficient to contest the status of a religious denomination. One of the twelve Jyotirlingas is Kashi Vishwanath. Jyotirlingas are worshipped following a predetermined set of rituals. The temple’s followers provide endowments for such rituals by making donations. The pujaris are now considered to be a class that is a religious denomination for purposes of protection under Articles 25 and 26. Article 14 extracts class legislation. This class shall be accorded equal treatment under Article 14 for rights under Articles 25 and 26.
The contested Act only affects secular activities; it does not affect religious freedom. The provisions of the Act make it abundantly clear what the purpose of the legislation is. It can only help to enhance the property’s management and upkeep. The Board will have the right to take possession of all real estate, including both movable and immovable property, money, valuables, jewellery, records, documents, tangible objects, and other assets that belong to or are a part of the Temple and its endowments under the terms of Section 13.
In State of Rajasthan and Others vs. Shri Sajjanlal Panjawat and Others1, it was determined, following the ruling in the Durgah Committee of Ajmer case2, that a religious denomination’s right to purchase property is distinct from its right to conduct its own business regarding religion. The former can be controlled by laws that the legislature can lawfully pass, whereas the latter is a fundamental right that cannot be taken away by the legislature.
The management of the endowments and property of the Temple shall be vested in the Board of trust for the deity of Sri Kashi Vishwanath temple. There is no controversy surrounding the selection of unofficial members. It is the appointment of the ex-official member of the board as the member in question. This amounts to the government having direct control over temple affairs. Non-Hindus cannot be appointed as board members, according to Section 3. While section 6 (1) calls for the ex-officio member to be appointed and to be of any religion. But if ex-officio members are not Hindus, section 6 (3) allows for the appointment of the next available Hindu.
The term “Hindu” is currently undefined. According to the Supreme Court of India, a Hindu may or may not be someone who practices temple worship or professes a religion that originated in India.3 Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jain are all considered Hindus even though they don’t necessarily practice all the same rituals and worship as temple devotees. Hindus are guaranteed the right to enter the temple regardless of their religious affiliation under Article 25(2)(b). Can someone who doesn’t believe in the temple be given to the management of the temple? Secondly, the non-Hindu official will authorize the Hindu official as a member of the board. Whether a non-Hindu will approve a Hindu’s appointment as a representative? The Act’s single goal is to administer the Temple more effectively and properly. Regarding effective management administration, there is no disagreement. It is only intended to usurp authority for the temple’s management. There are people on the board. These individuals need to be free from governmental control.
It has been decided that the Act protects the practice of Hindu religious doctrines, traditions, and usages. However, the secular administration of the religious matters in the Temple is a secular component. The legislative branch has the power to impose restrictions on and make interferences with the efficient management of such resources. The Temple is not their property, even though Mahant, Panda, and Archaka are in charge. Simply put, the Act gave the Board control over the Pandas. On the designated day, only the pandas’ management rights were terminated and transferred to the Board for better and more suitable management. Neither does it belong to the State nor was it bought for that purpose. To put it another way, the Board has assumed control over the Lord Sri Viswanath Temple’s management now that the Pandas/Mahant are no longer in charge of it. It cannot be argued that this management change results in the property’s ownership rights being acquired or lost.
Hereditary individuals were in charge of running the temple. In the hands of the appellants, the management could still be carried out properly under the Act. There was no need for the appointment of the ex-officials to the board for the management of the temple. The court determined that managing the temple’s endowments and property, as well as other temple business, is a secular activity and is not protected by the religious freedoms guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26. Because of this, anyone, Hindu or otherwise, can control such activities. The Act only gives Hindus the chance to serve on the board that oversees the temple’s endowments and property and is considered a secular endeavour. Ex-official non-Hindu members who have every right to oversee secular activity are being mistreated. Because if an activity, is secular, then every citizen of the country shall be eligible to be appointed without any discrimination. If an activity is religious, then it should not be interfered with by the government.
The Temple was managed by the descendants of the Mahant. The Act was enacted only for the excellent management of the temple since there was mismanagement by the descendants. Once the Act is established, it must make provisions for the committee’s creation and hand over management of the temple to the pujaris while making significant provisions for the punishment if mismanagement occurs again.
The case involved an appeal regarding the observance of the religious denomination’s fundamental rights, but it ultimately came down to ownership rights of the property and endowments. The court’s decision thus lies where religious and secular activity is distinguished. To keep balancing on this thin line, either the Act shall be amended to include the non-Hindus for maintaining the secular activities or the court shall include the management of the endowments and property of the temple as religious activity.
- State of Rajasthan and Others vs. Shri Sajjanlal Panjawat and others, AIR 1993 SC 706.
- The Durgah Committee, Ajmer and Another vs. Syed Hussain Ali and Others, AIR 1961 SC 1402.
- M.P. Gopalakrishnan Nair And Another vs. State Of Kerala And Others, (2005) 11 SCC 45.
This article is written by Somnath Sharma, a law graduate.