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Supreme Court: Why should a temple be managed by govt?

Agreeing to the proposition, A-G Venugopal asked to what extent in a secular country could the government control or manage the temples

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court, taking cognisance of the fact that many devotees were harassed in Jagannath temple in Puri, wanted to know on Monday why government officials should manage religious places and temples in the country.

The bench of Justice SS Bobde and Justice S Abdul Nazir said this while commenting on the petition filed by the victims in the Jagannath temple and highlighting the facts of harassment and exploitation by the ‘servants’ (employees).

“It is a matter of perspective. I don’t know why government officials should run and manage religious places,” asked Justice SA Bobde. Justice S Abdul Nazeer is the other judge in the bench hearing the case.

Justice Bobde noted that “most people who go there (Jagannath temple) come back harassed, mistreated and (they) have no voice”.

‘Temple administration no job of government’

As Justice Bobde flagged the issue, senior counsel Gopal Shankarnarayanan urged the court to address the question as to “how far the government in a secular state can run and manage the temple”.

“How, in a secular State, can the government manage religious places?” Shankarnarayanan asked.

Attorney General K Venugopal told the apex court that the Travancore Devaswam Board was operating the Sabarimala temple in Kerala while the board appointed by other governments were looking after the management of several temples in the country.

Venugopal said, “To what extent in the secular country can the government control or manage the temples?”

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Earlier, before the hearing began, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar said that he had presented a detailed report about his visit to the Jagannath temple.

On this, the bench remarked, “People (coming to the temple) are troubled by many reasons. The priest controls them. Many of these are people whom nobody pays heed to. They are poor and uneducated.”

The lawyer of the petitioner said that the administration of the Jagannath temple should tell the court what steps it has taken on the report of the district judge of Puri in this case.

The bench said that the case would be heard further next month.

Earlier, during the hearing, an advocate who filed an application for intervention, in this case, said that the petition was not fair.

When the lawyer began to speak aloud, Justice Bobde said, “It is enough. You are behaving in the most undignified manner in the court. We do not want to be shouted out. We do not want somebody to speak out of turn. You will not use the tone in which you are addressing the court.”

The amicus curiae had earlier told the court that there was a lack of arrangement for properly arranging the crowd of devotees. There is no provision of a queue for the devotees there.

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The question that has not figured in the arguments by lawyers and observations by the judges so far in the case is, if secularism dictates that religion not be a matter of the state, it is not the government of a secular state alone that is not supposed to run temple administrations. The courts cannot have a say in temple matters either.

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