The Karnataka High Court ordered the state government to appoint a Hindu priest at the Datta Peeta (or Dattatreya Peetha) shrine in the Chikmagalur district on 28 September. Previously, a maulvi had been appointed as the head priest of the shrine in 2018 under the INC government, and the move had created a massive controversy.
In an order issued on a plea filed against the 2018 order by the Sree Guru Dattatreya Peeta Devasthana, a single judge bench of Justice PS Dinesh Kumar ruled that the order entrusting ceremonies to the Mujawar of the shrine at the exclusion of Hindu priests is “unsustainable in law”.
The high court said that “the impugned order infringes the right of both communities guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution by preventing Hindus from performing puja as per their faith and compelling the Mujawar to offer pooja contrary to his faith.”
A temple in the name of Dattatreya Devaru and a dargah in the name of Baba Budan Dargah is located at the cave in the Bababudangiri Hills in Karnataka.
The high court has ruled that the Karnataka government had erred in going by recommendations of a high-level committee to allow ceremonies to be conducted by a Mujawar and while rejecting a 2010-report of an Endowment Commissioner on shared status.
The court pointed out that “the state government has chosen to accept the high-level committee’s recommendation to reject the Endowment Commissioner’s Report” despite the high-level committee report not being “free from the vice of bias”.
Welcoming the high court order, BJP MLA CT Ravi tweeted. “Karnataka High Court orders the Government to appoint Hindu Priests in Datta Peeta. I welcome the decision of the High Court in rejecting the biased report of Justice Nagmohan Das committee. Om Guru Dattatreya Namaha,” Ravi said in a tweet.
The BJP had raised the issue in the run-up to the state assembly election. The party had demanded that a Hindu priest be made in charge of the temple after the Siddaramaiah government brought the Datta Peeta under the control of the Muzrai Department. Ravi had then said that the cabinet decision under then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was an “eyewash gesture” to mislead the Hindu community.
Calling the move by the then INC government in Karnataka an attempt to please the minorities in the state, the BJP had questioned if Siddaramaiah would dare to appoint a Hindu priest for performing rituals in a mosque. According to reports, the Peetha was under the Muzrai Department since 1927 and under the Waqf Department during the Emergency period.
The BJP had warned that the party would fight for the demand and take up the matter legally.