SC orders handing over of Mahabaleshwar temple management to panel headed by ex-judge

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New Delhi, Apr 19 (PTI) The Supreme Court Monday ordered that an 'Overseeing Committee' headed by its former judge Justice B N Srikrishna would manage the affairs of historic Gokarna Mahabaleshwar temple of Lord Shiva at Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka and asked the 'Mutt' to hand over the shrine to the panel.

The fourth century shrine located at Gokarna beach on the Arabian sea and is popularly known as 'Kashi' of South India.

“In modification of all earlier interim orders we direct that the 'Overseeing Committee' shall function under the Chairmanship of Hon'ble Justice Sri B N Srikrishna, former Judge, Supreme Court of India and manage the affairs of the temple in all respects,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde.

The bench said the committee, which will comprise seven other members, would take over the management from the Mutt.

The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, delivered an interim order, till disposal of the appeals filed by parties including Ramchandrapura Matha against a 2018 order of the Karnataka High Court.

The High Court had quashed state government's order of handing over management of the temple to 'Mutt'.

A notification was issued in 2003 under the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 notifying the temple and as a result, its management was given to a government body.

The 'Mutt' then made a representation to the government which issued an order on August 12, 2008 deleting the name of the temple from its list and directed its Deputy Commissioner to hand over administration to the 'Mutt', a decision which was reversed by the High Court and came to be challenged in the top court.

In 14-page interim order, penned by CJI Bobde, the court took a view that the appeals against the high court's order needed to be heard at length in view of various facts such as there are petitions pending in the top court itself against a HC decision by which the Karnataka law, empowering state to notify temples for management, has been set aside.

“It was noticed that the hearing of the petition will have to be exhaustive and will require deeper consideration. That apart, the Act, 1997 under which the notification was made in the year 2003, was thereafter declared as unconstitutional by the Division Bench of the High Court of Karnataka in another proceeding, through the judgment dated 08.09.2006. The said judgment is assailed before this Court in the case of... Thus, the result in the said appeal would also have a bearing on this case..,” it said.

Fixing pleas for hearing, the top court came out with an “appropriate interim arrangement” to protect the interest of all parties and ordered setting up of the committee.

It said besides Justice Srikrishna, the ”Overseeing Committee” shall consist of Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police of Uttara Kannada District as members.

Besides them, Assistant Commissioner of Kumta Sub­Division and two eminent scholars, to be nominated by the state government, would be part of the panel.

“Two 'Upadivantas' of Gokarna Temple to be nominated by the Deputy Commissioner in consultation with the state government. The committee shall oversee the functioning of the temple by adhering to all traditions,” it ordered.

“The two eminent persons and the two Upadivantas ...shall be nominated within 15 days from the date of this order and the committee shall take over the management of the temple immediately thereafter, which shall be subject to final orders to be made in these appeals.

“The appellant 'Mutt' shall hand over charge of the affairs of the temple to the Assistant Commissioner who shall also act as Secretary to the 'Overseeing Committee',” it said. PTI SJK PKS ABA SA