The Kerala High Court referred a batch of petitions, relating to whether the Managing Committee of the Guruvayur Temple can make donations for non-religious purposes, before the Chief Justice for consideration before a larger bench.
Justice Shaji P. Chaly and Justice MR Anitha were hearing a batch of petitions on this matter. The main issue all the Petitioners raised was that as per Sections 11, 12 and 27 of the Guruvayur Devaswom Act, 1978, the Committee does not have the power to divert the fund of the Temple, other than for religious activities of Guruvayur Sreekrishna Temple.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government in Kerala received five crores for the Chief Minister’s COVID-19 Relief Fund from the Guruvayur Devaswom Board, causing a controversy. Guruvayur Devaswom Chairman K B Mohandas handed over the fund to Thrissur district collector S Shanavas as part of the Devaswom’s social responsibility. Mohandas said there was nothing illegal about it. He added that the Devaswom board had earlier donated to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund during the floods in 2018. Moreover, the Devaswom Commissioner gave permission before making the donation. The contribution is from the interest the Devaswom got for its fixed deposits with banks.
Notably, there were concerns over the payment of salaries to the Guruvayur Devaswom Board; in view of the nation-wide lockdown. Mohandas, however, dispelled fears over fund requirements to pay staff salaries. Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed the contribution of the Devaswom funds to the Chief Minister’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. Kerala Bhartiya Janta Party President K Surendran questioned the selection of only Hindu temples for Chief Ministers’ Relief Fund.
The Decision By The Court
The Kerala High Court referred the matter to a larger bench due to two conflicting judgments on this subject.
“We are of the considered opinion that all the writ petitions are to be heard along with the referred matter. Therefore, the registry is directed to place the writ petitions before Hon’ble the Chief Justice for appropriate orders. Needless to say, the donation given will be subject to the result of these writ petitions,” the bench ordered.
In the waiting period, the Temple Committee submitted that; it will not donate any further amount to the CM’s Distress Relief Fund for the time being.