UDAY UMESH LALIT, J. -
(1.)Leave granted in Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 11295 of 2011 and Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 12361 of 2011.
(2.)Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma who as Ruler of Covenanting State of Travancore had entered into a Covenant in May 1949 with the Government of India leading to the formation of the United State of Travancore and Cochin, died on 19.07.1991. His younger brother Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma and the Executive Officer of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram (hereinafter referred to as 'the Temple') as appellants 1 and 2 respectively have filed these appeals challenging the judgment and order dated 31.01.2011 passed by the High Court [The High Court of Kerala at Ernakulum] in Writ Petition (Civil) No.36487 of 2009 and in Writ Petition (Civil) No.4256 of 2010.
A) Writ Petition (C) No.36487 of 2009 was filed by one T.P. Sundara Raj an, a practising Advocate praying that the High Court be pleased to issue a Writ of Quo Warranto directing the appellant No.2 herein to show the authority under which he was holding the post of Executive Officer of the Temple and that the State be directed to take immediate steps to administer the Temple on the lines of Guruvayoor Devaswom. The Writ Petition was filed by the licensee of premises belonging to the Temple, against whom the management had taken steps for eviction.
B) Thereafter Writ Petition (Civil) No.4256 of 2010 was filed by the present appellants. After referring to relevant Articles of the Covenant entered into between the Ruler of the Covenanting State of Travancore and the Central Government which Covenant is dealt with in extenso hereinafter, it was submitted:-
"Acknowledging the terms contained in the Covenant the Government of the United State of Travancore and Cochin enacted Act 15 of 1950, the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 (hereinafter referred to as 'Act') which was later acknowledged by the State of Kerala, as evidenced by later amendments making specific provisions in relation to Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple and its properties and its administration. Chapter II of Part I of the Act deals with the Travancore Devaswom Board, Section 2(c) defines the incorporated and unincorporated Devaswom, which says that 'incorporated Devaswoms' means the Devaswoms mentioned in the schedule 1 and 'unincorporated Devaswoms' means those Devaswoms including Hindu Religious Endowments whether in or outside Travancore which were under the management of the Maharaja of Travancore and are separately dealt with.
7. The right of the Maharaja that existed prior to the execution of the Covenant Ext. PI, which is nothing but the sovereign right, to control and supervise the administration of the Temple, the Pandaravaka properties etc. are insulated from they being made the subject matter of attacks before Courts, including The Supreme Court by Article 363 of the Constitution-Construing the Article the Supreme Court has held that no dispute touching the subject matter of a covenant etc., shall be entertained by courts including the Supreme Court. The only remedy is the one prescribed by Article 143.
10. The above-mentioned rights, privileges, status etc. of the 1st petitioner vis-a-vis of the Padmanabhaswamy temple the 2nd petitioner, guaranteed by the Central Government, as discernible from Ext. PI and preserved and protected by Article 363 of the Constitution, notwithstanding, a few members of the public with the backing of certain political parties, have filed a representative Suit O.S. 625/2007 for a permanent prohibitory injunction restraining the second petitioner from opening the six Kallaras (cellars) inside the Nalambalam."
The Writ Petition prayed that Original Suit Nos.625 of 2007, 1618 of 2009 and 1831 of 2009 be transferred by the High Court to itself and the same be disposed of on the basis of the preliminary issue regarding maintainability.
i) Original Suit No.625 of 2007 was filed in the Court of Subordinate Judge, Thiruvananthapuram alleging that the plaintiffs (respondents 3 and 4 in appeal arising out of SLP (Civil) No. 12361 of 2011) were aggrieved by the state of affairs prevailing in the Temple and prayed, inter alia, for following reliefs:-"
A. A decree of permanent prohibitory injunction restraining the defendants, his agents, henchmen or any other person claiming to have any right in the affairs or the Temple from opening the six Kallara (cellars) inside the nalambalam which is plaint B schedule herein or take any articles from the Cellar in any form, in any manner or for any purpose or act in any manner detrimental to the interest of the deity or the devotees.
B. To pass a decree of mandatory injunction removing all articles brought inside the temple that is plaint A schedule by the 2nd defendant against the customs, practice and traditions at his own expenses or in the alternative permit the plaintiffs to remove the same at their own expenses and to recover the same from the defendants and their assets.
PLAINT SCHEDULE PROPERTIES
PLAINT "A" SCHEDULE
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple situated inside the Fort Area with eight entrances spread over a sprawling 7.04 acres of land together with numerous buildings, temples and all other things attached thereto of Vanchiyoor Village, Trivandrum Taluk, Trivandrum District.
PLAINT "B" SCHEDULE
a. Kallara No. 1 on the southern side of the Nalambalam inside the chandanamandapam.
b. Kallara No.2 on the South west corner outside the chandanamandapam inside the nalambalam.
c. Kallara No.3 on the north western side inside the Nalambalam.
d. Kallara No.4 on the northern side inside the Nalambalam
e. Kallara No. 5 inside the Sreekovil on the northern side next to the idol for Vishwaksenar.f. Kallara No.6 inside the Sreekovil on the south eastern corner towards the exit gate to Thekkedom Narasimhamoorthy Temple."
ii) Original Suit No. 1618 of 2009 was filed by one of the employees of the Temple and prayed:-
"(A) To declare that Defendants 3 and 4 have no authority to act as office bearers of Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple as it is legally held that they have no authority to occupy their positions, ...... and for the same, necessary directions may be given to Defendants 1 and 2 about their illegal occupation.
(B) To pass a decree of permanent prohibitory injunction restraining the 3rd and 4th Defendants from forcibly obstructing the plaintiff from discharging her duties as an employee which she is carrying out for the past 20 years or from doing any act which is detrimental to the interest of the Plaintiff in doing her lawful work and for which the Defendants 3 and 4 have no legal authority.
(C) To pass a decree of permanent prohibitory injunction restraining the 3rd and 4th defendants from doing any act which affects her job as a Computer Operator in Ticket Counter attached to Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple."
iii) Original Suit No. 1831 of 2009 was filed in the Court of Munsiff, Thiruvananthapuram by General Secretary of "Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple Staff Organisation" (respondent No.6 in appeal arising out of SLP (Civil) No. 12361 of 2011) claiming following reliefs:-
"A. To pass a decree declaring the orders, no.5/SPST/09 dated 10.06.2009 and 14.07.2009 issued by the 2nd defendant creating the post of "Administrative Officer" and thereby posted the 3rd defendant in the said post, as void and non est, since it was doneby the 2nd defendant without any authority, by manifestly flouting the Rules prevailing in the Temple and without legal sanctity.
B. To pass a decree of mandatory injunction directing the 2nd defendant to remove the 3rd defendant from the post to which he has been assumed charges, failing which the 3rd defendant may be removed by the intervention of this Hon'ble Court."
(3.)In the Suits, the authority of the appellants herein to be associated with the affairs of the Temple was under challenge, while the very maintainability of the Suits was questioned by the appellants. The basic issue that arose for consideration was framed by the High Court in the judgment under appeal as:-
"The Central issue arising in these two connected W.P. Is is whether the younger brother of the last Ruler of Travancore could after the death of the last Ruler on 20.07.1991 claim to be the "Ruler of Travancore" within the meaning of that term contained in Section 18(2) of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 (hereinafter called "the TC Act") to claim ownership, control and management of the ancient and great Temple in Kerala namely, the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple located in Trivandrum."
The High Court concluded that after the definition of 'Ruler' appearing in Article 366 (22) of the Constitution of India was amended by the Constitution (Twenty Sixth Amendment) Act, 1971, the appellant No.l could not claim to be in control or management of the Temple as successor to the last Ruler. The High Court thereafter issued the following directions:-
"i) There shall be a direction to the State Government to immediately take steps to constitute a body corporate or trust or other legal authority to take over control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, it's assets and management and to run the same in accordance with all the traditions hitherto followed. This shall be done within a period of three months from now.
ii) There will be an order of injunction against petitioners in W.P.(C) No.4256/2010 who are respondents 3 and 5 in the other W.P.(C) against opening of any of the Kallaras or removing any of the articles from the Temple. However, they are free to use such of the articles required for rituals, ceremonies and regular poojas in the Temple until Temple is taken over by the Authority as stated above.
iii) There will be direction to the authority constituted by the Government to open all Kallaras, make inventory of the entire articles and create a Museum and exhibit all the treasures of the Temple for the public, devotees and the tourists to view the same which could be arranged on payment basis in the Temple premises itself. The first petitioner in W.P.(C) No.4256/2010 and the successors from the Royal Family should be permitted to participate in the rituals in the Temple like the Arattu Procession, which is symbolic of the presence of the "Padmanabhadasa" in the Festival.
iv) Considering the valuables and treasures in the Temple, the Government should consider handing over security of the Temple to a team of Police or at least provide assistance to the Temple security staff.
The Government should ensure that the opening of Kallaras (storage places) and the preparation of inventory are done by a team of responsible and honest officers either from the Government or from the authority constituted to manage the Temple in terms of the directions above so that there should not be any allegation of pilferage or manipulation. Inventory should be prepared in the presence of the petitioners in W.P.(C) No. 4256/2010 or their agents towards proof of the items taken over from their custody."
The appellants, being aggrieved, are in appeal.