Apex court against removing trustee for failing to ban book

Apex court against removing trustee for failing to ban book

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that failure to take steps to ban a book—critical of philosophical and spiritual guru of a trust—could not be treated as a serious omission to seek removal of its administration or trustees.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and S A Bobde said it might be an omission on the part of trustees in exercise of proper discretion but it would not fall within the compass of administration. The SC overturned an order by the Orissa HC granting permission to R Ramanathan and others, residents and followers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, to initiate proceedings for removal of the administration over their failure to stop publication or circulation of a book  “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” written by one Peter Heehs.

The book purported to be a biography of Sri Aurobindo was published in May 2008 by the Columbia University Press in the United States by Heehs, one of the ashramites. However, objections were made to its publication for containing sacrilegious materials about Sri Aurobindo. Though the Odisha government and the Centre banned the “objectionable” book, it was contended that the Ashram administration did not take any step to expel Heehs or to sever all ties of with him. Neither any effective action was taken to stop the publication of the book by contacting the Columbia University Press in the US or stop its sale through online sites here, it was claimed.

Allowing a plea by the Ashram, the SC bench said it was not in agreement with the view that the failure of the appellants to take the initiative in banning the objectionable book gives rise to a cause of action for the removal of the trustees and settling a scheme for its administration. “The trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a trust. A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse,” the bench said.

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