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SC upholds right of erstwhile Travancore royal family in administration of Kerala’s Padmanabhaswamy Temple

14th July, 2020 Society

Court Judgement:

  • Erstwhile Travancore royal family is the “human ministrant” or the shebait (manager) of the properties belonging to Sri Padmanabha, chief deity of the famed and fabulously rich Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala.
  • Directed to set up an administrative committee and advisory committee for bringing transparency in the administration of temple.
  • Ordered an audit for the last 25 years.

Administrative committee:

  • Chairperson: District Magistrate
  • Other Members: nominee of the trustee (royal family), the chief thanthri of the temple, a nominee of the State and a member nominated by the Union Ministry of Culture.
  • Role: Take care of the daily administration.

Advisory committee:

  • Chairperson: Retired High Court Judge nominated by the Chief Justice of Kerala
  • Role: Advise the administrative committee on policy matters.

Main duties of both committees:

  • To preserve the treasures and properties.
  • Take a call on whether to open Kallara B, considered to be the richest among the temple vaults, for inventorisation.
  • Ensure that rituals and religious practices are conducted as per custom and on the advice of the chief thantri.
  • Ensure that income to the temple would be used to augment the facilities.

Questions raised:

  • Whether the 26th Constitutional Amendment, which banished rulers and privy purses, would nudge the temple and properties into the hands of the State.

Kerala High Court Verdict:

  • Directed the State to take over the temple and exhibit its treasures for public viewing in a museum.

Court Reasoning:

  • Death of a ruler does not affect the royal family’s shebaitship of the temple.
  • Shebaitship does not lapse in favour of the State by principle of escheat (reversion of property to the State).

About Shebait:

  • Custodian of the idol
  • Its earthly spokesman
  • Its authorised representative entitled to deal with all its temporal affairs and to manage its property”.

26th Constitutional amendment:

  • Abolition of the Privy Purses
  • Omission of the Article 291 and 292.
  • Passed in the 1971.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sc-upholds-right-of-erstwhile-travancore-royal-family-in-administration-of-keralas-sree-padmanabhaswamy-temple/article32063310.ece#:~:text=The%20Supreme%20Court%20on%20Monday,A%20Bench%20of%20Justices%20U.U.