Gokarna Temple Dispute: SC observes the matter should be decided by the Civil Court

The Supreme Court today has deferred hearing on a plea filed by Ramachnadapura Math against the decision of the Karnataka High Court which had constituted a “overseeing committee” and handed over the management of the Gokarna Temple to the said committee instead of the petitioner Math. 

The Supreme Court three-judge bench headed by the CJI S.A. Bobde, Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian has observed during the hearing today that the present matter should be decided by the Civil Courts and not by them. 

The present SLP has been filed by the Ramachnadapura Math which had lost control over the management of the Gokarna Temple after the high court order.

After hearing the matter for the whole day the bench was inclined to order that the matter should be heard by civil court or it should be inquired and decided by the commissioner of endownment under section 50 of the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997.

The bench came to the conclusion after noticing the fact that the subject matter of the present issue is the control of the “Gokarna Temple” and the cause of action in the present matter is Denotification which had been issued by the Karnataka State Government which said that “the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997” will not apply to the temples which are attached to the math. Therefore, the bench said that this issue shall be decided by the civil courts after proper inquiry as to “whether the math is attached to the temple” and it also said that the word “Attached” can have many interpretation like annexed, controlled, having possession etc. which has to be determined by the Civil Courts.

The CJI also made a remark that the bone of contention is the control of the temple therefore it should neither be given to the Petitioner nor the Respondent till the civil court decides this matter. Thereafter, the court said that the interim control of the management of the temple should be with the “Oversight Committee” which has been formed by the Order of the Karnataka High Court.

The bench adjourned the matter and listed it for hearing after Holi vacation. The Object of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 is “to regulate improper alienation or disposal of property belonging to a notified or declared institution by nullifying unlawful transfers and providing for expenditions eviction of unauthorised occupants of property belonging to such institutions.”

Thereafter, when the act came into force, Writ Petition was filed in the High Court of Karnataka challenging the Control and management of the temple which was in the hands of Ramachnadapura Math (the present petitioner) and after hearing the matter the High Court had constituted an “overseeing Committee” and handed over the management of the Gokarna Temple to the said committee instead of the Ramachnadapura Math.

The Ramachnadapura Math which traces its existence to around the 8th century AD is now denied the right to administer the Gokarna Temple which had been attached to it hence it approached the Supreme Court challenging the order of the Karnataka High Court. It has been alleged in the Special Leave Petition by the Petitioner-Math that Gokarna Temple is controlled and administered by it since time immemorial as evidenced by several edicts, historical references and documents.
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