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No Grounds For Improper Intervention Of The State In Religious Affairs

The Madras High Court recently issued a directive to the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) department to hand over the administration of the Sengol Mutt to the 103rd head of the mutt. This order highlight the right exercised by the non-state authority in managing the religious affairs and holds the state authority accountable for undue interference.

Interpretations of the Act:

The Preamble of the HR & CE Act, 1959 highlights the purpose of the act to amend or consolidate the law relating to the administration of these institutions which is expedient to do so. The word 'expedient' refers to being convenient but immoral. This shows the importance of non-intervention of the state in administration of the institutions. Section 7 of the said act specifies the formation of the advisory committee to administer where the state can remove all the non-official members of the advisory committee only in the name of public interest.

What qualifies as public interest is not substantively said in the act but taking Article 25(2) of the Constitution which empowers the state to make laws relating to the religious affairs of the institutions for the welfare of the public and to make all sections within the Hindu population be inclusive in taking part in the occasions hosted by the institutions, it can be said that substantive welfare is the public interest.

Section 10 empowers the commissioner or any other appointed person to carry out the purposes of the act but requires the commissioner to be a person professing Hindu religion underlining the dominance of the religious character involved in administering both religious and secular functions.

No grounds for undue interference:

The court observed that the head of the religious institution has absolute right over the religious affairs without intervention by the state. The judgment by the SC in the landmark Shirur Mutt case should be viewed here. The court said that certain essential religious practices should be viewed as an intrinsic part of religion and the state cannot interfere on those in the name of secular functions. The Madras HC highlighted the intervention of the state in secular functions and the time limitations of those interventions.

In 1960, the HR & CE department formed the advisory committee to manage the institution citing the alleged concerns of alienation of the temple properties by the head. Article 26(d) empowers the religious dominations to have control over the moveable and immovable property of the institutions and the court in Shirur Mutt case observed that this article protects the mutt by giving the fundamental right to manage its endowments (properties).

So, this interference by the state authority since 1962 (after the expiry of the advisory committee) was without jurisdiction and clear violation of the act and fundamental rights since Section 65 of the said act empowers the commissioner to appoint a body to assist the administration but does not empower to appoint manager to manage day to day affairs.

Upholding Article 25, 26 and the SC judgment in The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Shirur Mutt. there is no ground for undue interference of the state in managing the religious institutions.

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