THAKUR GOVIND DEOJI BIRAJMAN Vs. SUSALLI
HIGH COURT OF ALLAHABAD
THAKUR GOVIND DEOJI BIRAJMAN
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S.S.Dhavan, J. -
(1.)THIS is a plaintiffs' second appeal from the decree of the Temporary Civil and Sessions Judge of Mathura dismissing their suit for the ejectment of the defendant respondent and recovery of arrears of rent from him as well as damages for unauthorised use and occupation of the premises in suit. The facts are these. The plaintiff is a deity, Shri Thakur Govind Deoji Rirajman, whose idol is established in a temple at Barsana in the district of Mathura The suit was filed in the name of the deity but the plaintiff was described as under the management of Nand Ram and others who were styled as managers (Mohatiman) of the deity. They were also added in the array of plaintiffs. The defendant is one Susalli a tenant of the deity. It was alleged in the plaint that the plaintiff was the owner of a piece of land which was let out to the defendant Susalli on Rs. 2/- per month as rent: that he had not paid the arrears of rent for nearly four years; that he was guilty of causing nuisance and also fighting and abusing the shebait of the plaintiff-deity and keeping the accommodation dirty that his tenancy had been terminated by a notice dated 17-10-1952 and he was asked to vacate the accommodation and pay the arrears of rent that in his reply to the notice he repudiated the plaintiffs' title and therefore his tenancy was terminated under Section 111 (6) of the Transfer of Property Act and the present suit was filed. The defendant resisted the suit and denied that plaintiffs Nand Ram and Govind Saran were the shebaits of the deity as alleged by them or had any right to file the suit. He denied that he had been admitted to tenancy by them. He alleged that they were neither the Mohaliman nor the pujaris of the plaintiff deity but merely paid servants. According to him, the temple in which the plaintiff-deity had been established was the subsidiary of another temple in Vrindaban where the same deity was worshipped and the trustees of the Vrindaban temple were the pujaris and managers of the temple at Barsana. The defendant further alleged that his ancestors had been granted a permanent lease about 70 years ago by the trustees of Vrindaban temple and since then his family had lived on the land.
(2.)IT may be noted that according to both parlies the deity of the temple at Barsana and the Vrindaban temples is one and the same--namely, Thakur Govind Deoji Birajman. The defendant did not challenge the title of the deity to the land occupied by him, and also admitted that he was a tenant, but he denied that the plaintiffs Nand Ram and Govind Saran were the pujaris or managers of the Barsana temple, and he claimed rights under a lease obtained from the trustees of the Vrindaban temple, who according to him were also the managers of the subsidiary temple. The disputes between the parties was not with regard to the title of the deity which was admitted, but the status of the other two plaintiffs and their right to eject the defendant and recover rent from him. Both the sides led evidence. The plaintiffs produced certain entries in the revenue records in which their ancestors were described as shebaits while the defendant produced two deeds under which the plaintiffs' ancestors were, according to him, appointed by the managers of the Vrindaban temple as their paid servants to look after the temples at Barsana. The trial court held that Nandram and Govind Saran were the pujaris of the Barsana temple and competent to file a suit for the ejectment of the defendant and recovery of rent from him. IT also held that the defendant was a tenant of these plaintiffs. Accordingly it decreed the suit for ejectment and recovery of rent. On appeal the learned Civil Judge disagreed with the trial court with regard to the status of the two plaintiffs or their capacity to file the suit on behalf of the deity. He held that the Barsana Temple was managed by the trustees or managing committee of the Vrindaban temple and the defendant derived his rights as a permanent lessee from them. According to him, the plaintiffs had no right to represent the deity, and their suit was incompetent. He allowed the appeal and dismissed the suit of the plaintiffs who have come to this Court in second appeal.
Mr. Gopi Nath, learned counsel for the appellants urged two points in support of this appeal. First he argued that the finding of the lower appellate court that the plaintiffs were not the shebaits or managers of the deity was vitiated because he had not considered the documentary evidence relied upon by the trial court. This is one of the usual arguments which is advanced before me from time to time by the appellants who want to assail findings of fact. The judgment of the learned Judge indicates that he considered the evidence as a whole including the documents relied on by the plaintiffs. It is not necessary for an appellate court to give a list of the documents which it considers, and it is sufficient if the judgment as a whole gives the impression that the findings are based on a consideration of evidence. The learned Judge relied on a document which he thought outweighed the documents produced by the plaintiff appellants. I see no error of law in this. This point fails.
Learned counsel then argued that even accepting the finding of the appellate court as correct, the appellants should have been held to be competent to file a suit for the ejectment of a tenant in their capacity as pujaris or managers. Learned counsel relied on defendant's own assertion in the written statement that the plaintiffs were the paid pujaris of the temple and also a document filed by them. Ext. A-5 which purports to be an agreement between the plaintiffs' ancestors and the then managers of the Vrindaban temple appointing the former as the pujaris of the temple. Learned counsel argued that the vital fact was whether the plaintiffs were pujaris and it was immaterial whether they were paid servants or not. According to him a pujari is a pujari whatever be the manner of his remuneration
(3.)I cannot accept this argument. In the first place, the plaintiffs never claimed that they had been appointed pujaris by the trustees of the Vrindaban temple and their case was that their ancestors became pujaris when the lemple itself was founded. They denied that the temple at Barsana was the subsidiary of the Vrindaban temple. This case was rejected by the lower appellate court and the plaintiffs now want to fall back upon ah alleged agreement filed by the defendant himself as a part of his case But the defendant filed it to show that the plaintiffs were not shebails but mere servants of the managing committee of the Vrindaban temple. Mr. Gopi Nath wanted me to interpret the terms of the document filed by the defendant so as to make the plaintiffs the shebaits But the precise nature of the status of the plaintiffs under this agreement was a question of fact which could be determined by evidence, and the onus was on the plaintiffs to prove facts to rebut the interpretation placed on the document by the defendant They led no evidence for the simple reason that they denied any connection with the managing committee of the Vrindaban temple and claimed an independent status for themselves. In the absence of this evidence, I cannot accept the plaintiffs' version of their rights and status under a document filed by the defendant as a part of this case. The position would have been different if the plaintiffs had admitted that they derived their title from this document and led evidence in support of their version that it conferred the status of shebait on them. The learned Judge accepted the evidence of the defendant in support of his version that the plaintiffs' status was not that of worshippers or pujaris.
But relying on the word 'pujari' used in the defendant's document Mr. Gopi Nath cited a number of decisions in an attempt to show that a pujari is entitled to file a suit to safeguard the interests of the deity. I have examined all these decisions, but none of them dealt with the point which has arisen before me--namely, whether a person who is appointed as the paid servant of a subsidiary temple by the managing committee of a dominant temple for performing the ministerial duty of arranging the puja in the subsidiary temple can assume the right of management even against the committee and claim the right to terminate a lease executed by the managing committee and eject a tenant admitted by them. In all the cases cited by learned counsel the Court held that a pujari has the right in special circumstances, to file a suit to safeguard the interests of the deity. I respectfully subscribe to this principle. The primary object of establishing a temple dedicated to the worship of a deity is to enable the devotees to offer worship and not to create vested interests in the property, though the incidental result may be to endow the deity with property for the maintenance of the temple and defray the expenses of worship and so on. If this fundamental object is kept in view, it is obvious that the worshippers or the devotees must have the right to intervene if anything is done by the managers of the property of the temple or by the professional pujaris which will frustrate the primary object of worship--as for example, removing the idol or wasting the assets of the temple. The interests of the deity or the primary object of the worship will not be permitted to be defeated by technical objections against the competence of manager or a worshipper to file the suit. In Gopal Dutt v. Babu Ram. AIR 1936 All 653 it was held that a suit can be brought in the name of an idol by a person who is the de facto manager of the temple in which the idol is installed even though he may not be de jure manager. In Ram Dass v. Shri Ram Lakshman Janki, AIR 1943 All 352 it was held that where the founder of the endowment has reserved to himself the sewa- puja of the idol, he is the shebait, and as such entitled to administer the endowed property to himself, and even if verbally asks another person to perform this duty he is competent to dismiss that person. Mr. Gopi Nath admitted that the decision is not relevant to this case but he relied on the definition of shebait which according to him includes a pujari. But there are all kinds of pujaris. In its most general sense, the word pujari means any one who worships the deity. Even those who assist in the performance of puja are pujaris. But I think the word "shebait" means a pujari in the sense of the high priest or the priest of the temple. There is no evidence here to indicate that the plaintiffs were appointed the priests of the Barsana temple by the Committee of the Vrindaban temple. In Behari Lal v. Radha Ballabh Ji, AIR 1961 All 73 it was held that any one who has a beneficial interest in the temple property has a right to take action to see that the temple property is preserved to the deity and to file a suit for this purpose as the next friend of the deity, provided the suit is in the name of the deity itself. In that case a deceased manager or pujari of the temple had made alienations of property which the plaintiff challenged. I respectfully concur that worshippers of a deity must have the right to insist that managers or pujaris or shebaits do not misuse their power--rights analogous to the beneficiaries of a trust. In Naurangi Lal v. Ram Charan Das, AIR 1930 Pat 455, it was held that a Mahant in actual possession of the math is competent to bring a suit for the recovery of the property belonging to the math and may sue as next friend of the idol, provided he does not claim any personal interest in the property sought to be recovered. This principle is consistent with the one enunciated by me that there must be some one competent to safeguard the endowments of a temple of worship in the absence of persons who would normally be competent to do so. But in the present case, the defendant's allegation is that the managing committee of the Vrindaban temple alone is competent to enforce the rights of the deity as landlord and the plaintiffs are either usurpers or mere busy-bodies. In my opinion, before a person is permitted to file a suit in the name of the deity he must show a prima facie right to do so. He can do this by proving that he is the mahant or the pujari of the temple or the manager of its property, or even a mere worshipper who has been compelled to act because those who were competent to do so did not perform their duty or abused their power or had disentitled themselves because of a conflict between their duty and their interests. The fundamental principle, if I may state at the risk of repetition, in all these cases must be that the interests of the idol or its property or its worshippers are not being safeguarded as they ought to be and the plaintiffs had acted to safeguard them. In the present case, the plaintiffs do not come within the scope of this principle.
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