The Single judge said that “If the Government, through the HR & CE Department wants to have control and supervision over temple administration, it has the twin duty of ensuring that the traditional festivals are held by adhering to the safety standards“
In a first ever unprecedented event, the Madras High Court on Sunday in PR Srinivasan v The Commissioner case held an emergency hearing through WhatsApp and allowed a rath yatra to be organized at a Tamil Nadu temple.
The single judge Justice GR Swaminathan made a personal visit to Nagercoil when the petitioner made a fervent prayer for an urgent hearing of the case.
“‘Our village will face divine wrath if the proposed Rath festival is not held tomorrow’ – This fervent prayer of the writ petitioner made the Court to hold an emergent sitting from Nagercoil and conduct the case through Whatsapp,” the order noted.
The Court made reference to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE) and emphasized that the power to control and supervise temple administration came with a duty besides allowing the Rath Yatra.
the single judge’s order said that
“If the Government, through the HR & CE Department wants to have control and supervision over temple administration, it has the twin duty of ensuring that the traditional festivals are held by adhering to the safety standards”.
The Hereditary Trustee of the Arulmighu Abheeshta Varadarajaswamy temple in Dharmapuri district against the communication of the Inspector of the HR & CE Department preventing the rath festival from taking place, which caused filling of present plea.
The tradition of the procession starts from the temple and runs through four streets around it, covering half a kilometer in four hours every year for the last eight decades until the outbreak of Covid-19, due to which it was not conducted for the last two years.
Following the lifting of covid restrictions, it was to be held this year till the communication was made by the HR & CE Department, the plea before the High Court stated. Therefore the petitioner sought a quashing of the same.
The Advocate General did not take an adversarial stand and expressed the sole concern regarding the safety of the general public, the High Court recorded. On other hand, It was submitted that a tragedy had struck Thanjavur district recently during a similar procession.
The single-judge began by quashing the communication on the grounds that it was without jurisdiction. Justice Swaminathan then went on to mould the relief, Observing that the festival was one of the most important features of Tamil Nadu temples.
“They serve a vital social function also as people cutting across all sections and castes participate and mingle together while pulling the chariot.”
Referring to a government order which lays down 46 safety norms for safety the single judge acknowledged that certain fatal accidents had previously taken place. The same, if followed, would have assured that no mishap occurred, Observed the court.
Discussing the judgment of the Supreme Court in Sarika v Shri Mahakaleshwar Mandir Committee which held that there is a constitutional obligation to preserve religious practices of all religions, and when there is a large gathering of persons during festival times, the State is obligated to provide basic amenities to the pilgrims.
Citing the same, the High Court held that it is the duty of the HR & CE Department, the State, and the local administration to put in place all necessary arrangements to ensure that the customary religious festivals were conducted smoothly.
The judge expressed satisfaction after going through the materials, that basic safety norms were already taken into account. The petitioner’s undertaking that every step would be taken to avoid any mishap was taken on record.
the court directed the respondents to ensure that the festival took place without any mishap.
Advocate V Raghavachari appeared for M Narayanaswamy on behalf of the petitioner.
Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram assisted by Government Pleader Muthukumar.