SC relief to State temple priests
source: Deccan Herald, July 13, 2007
In a relief to over 70,000 archakas (priests) of 38,000 temples spread all over Karnataka, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed the State Government not to superannuate them at the age of 65, as they were pursuing the profession hereditarily.
Making it clear that it would not pronounce any innocuous order, a bench of Justices H K Sema and Lokeshwar Singh Penta directed the State Government to maintain status quo in accordance with the order delivered on April 2, 2007 by a two member High Court bench and not to enforce retirement of the priests and indoor temple servants.
The high-level committee headed by Justice (Retd) M Rama Jois was urged to put forth suggestions for the betterment of the priest community, who are dependent on the temple and had been pursuing the profession for generations. With a word of caution, the court ordered, “no coercive or punitive action” should be taken by the authorities to remove the priests from the temples. Senior counsel P K Goswami, assisted by advocate Kashi Vishwaswar, contended that about 35,000 priests would be rendered jobless immediately, if the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997, was implemented in its present form.
State Government counsel Sanjay Hegde maintained that the priests were not handing over the accounts of temples to the authorities and allegedly usurping the income without spending it on other developmental projects. “So far, the State has not taken any steps to precipitate the situation,” he submitted. Dixit said that the government should increase the emoluments of the priests from Rs 490 per month to a reasonable amount. Talking to Deccan Herald after the pronouncement, S S Seshadri Bhattar and K S N Dixit, president and secretary of the Akhil Karnataka Archaka Federation, said, with the pronouncement, more than 70,000 archakas and their families would be benefited.
A single bench interim order of the High Court had upheld the act. Following this,the Endowment Department on May 5, 2007, instructed all the deputy commissioners to constitute managing committees for the temples under the act.
The single bench order was challenged by the priests, contended that the act was discriminatory and not uniformly applicable to all religious institutions. After this, a two member bench of the HC struck down the Act and the government referred it to a high-powered committee.
, before approaching the Supreme Court.
‘Govt should hike emoluments’
Dixit opined that the government should increase the emoluments of the priests from Rs 490 per month to a reasonable amount, so that they manage their families properly.