SC to examine if Hindus can dominate famed Buddha temple

 The Supreme Court today agreed to examine a question of Constitutional law as to whether a Hindu can be the chairman of the famed Maha Bodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, and if the managing committee can be dominated by Hindus instead of Buddhists.

A bench of justices Altamas Kabir and S S Nijjar asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati to assist the court in the matter and posted it for further hearing on Friday.

The apex court's direction came on a public interest litigation (PIL) by advocate Vineet Dhanda challenging the validity of Section 3 of the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949, under which the government appoints a 9-member panel with a Hindu as its chairman and the majority of its members being Hindus rather than Buddhists.

Dhanda submitted the constitution of the committee of the Maha Bodhi Temple, which is the holiest place of Buddhists, violated Articles 26 and 25 of the Constitution.

While Article 25 of the Constitution gives liberty or freedom to profess, practise, propagate any religion, the Article 26 gives fundamental right to an individual and community to manage their religious affairs and matters on their own and administer their own religious places or institutions, he said.

The advocate pointed out that the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949, however, mandates that the committee regulating the affairs of Maha Bodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya would have Hindus in majority as the law mandates its panel chairman and four members to be Hindus, leaving only four remaining seats for Buddhists members.

Maha Bodhi Temple is one of the most revered shrines of Buddhists as Lord Buddha had attained enlightenment here under a Maha Bodhi Tree.

The petition pleaded, among other things, with the apex court to issue an appropriate writ/order or direction asking the central and the state governments to amend section 3(3) of "The Bodhgaya Temple Act, 1949" and ensure that the Head of the Bodhgaya Temple be a Buddhist and not a Hindu.

It further urged the court to direct the state government to make necessary amendment in the "Bodhgaya Temple Act, 1949" in Section 3(3) substituting the Chairman of the Committee administering the Bodhgaya Temple as a Buddhist and ensure that neither a Hindu nor the district magistrate (who is an ex-officio chairman of the Committee) is allowed to dominate the management. 

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