The Supreme Court’s intervention to give a new administrative set-up for the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram is the result of a long legal battle and public pressure to clear the mess there.
The temple is arguably the world’s richest temple where an unfinished inventory-taking and evaluation about three years ago had found wealth to the tune of over Rs 1 lakh crore in precious stones and jewellery.
It also has a lot of other assets. The temple is of high religious standing and is a major pilgrim centre.
Lord Padmanabha was the presiding deity of the erstwhile Travancore kingdom and its rulers had dedicated the kingdom to the deity.
This gave the royal family a decisive role in its administration and this arrangement has continued for the last many decades.
The court’s order is based on a report of the amicus curiae, former solicitor-general Gopal Subramanyam, whom it had appointed to investigate the affairs of the temple.
The report exposed rampant and extensive maladministration, financial irregularities and undesirable activities in the temple.
It was also critical of the attitude of the royal family which it said considered the temple as its private property.
There is also suspicion of loss of treasures and invaluable antiquities through pilferage and replacement by fake objects.
The court has ordered a new management committee under a judge as an interim measure and an auditing of the accounts of the temple for the past 25 years.
It upheld earlier orders of lower courts for transfer of the administration of the temple to a public body for transparency in accounts and administration.
The main principle underlying the amicus curiae’s report, which the SC has accepted, is that temples cannot be considered private property.
The wealth of the temple, accumulated through offerings can only be considered public property. It should not be handled arbitrarily by private custodians.
Some other temple managements have also adopted such an attitude and courts had to intervene in their affairs to protect public interest.
The common argument is that such interventions amount to violation of religious traditions.
This is wrong because the secular aspect of administration is separate from the religious side.
The society has the right to be convinced that the administration is efficient, transparent and above board.
It should be noted that the court has ordered that the practices and traditions of the temple will not be affected by the change in administration.