Civil Procedure Code (CPC)

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The State Of Madhya Pradesh & Ors Vs Pujari Utthan Avam Kalyan Samiti & Anr: The Pujari Is Only To Perform Puja And To Maintain The Properties Of The Deity And Cannot Be The Owner Of The Land Attached To Temple

Prahalad B ,
  14 September 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court
Brief :
The Pujari is only a grantee to manage the property of the deity and such grant can be reassumed if the Pujari fails to do the task assigned to him, i.e., to offer prayers and manage the land. He cannot be thus treated as a Bhoomiswami.
Citation :
Civil Appeal No. 4850 of 2021

Date of judgement:
06 September 2021

Bench:
Justice Hemant Gupta
Justice A S Bopanna

Parties:
Appellants – The State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors
Respondent – Pujari Utthan Avam Kalyan Samiti & Anr

Subject

The Pujari is only a grantee to manage the property of the deity and such grant can be reassumed if the Pujari fails to do the task assigned to him, i.e., to offer prayers and manage the land. He cannot be thus treated as a Bhoomiswami.

Legal Provisions

  • Section 57 of the M.P. Land Revenue Code, 1959 - All lands belong to the State Government and it is hereby declared that all such lands, including standing and flowing water, mines, quarries, minerals and forests reserved or not, and all rights in the sub-soil of any land are the property of the State Government.
  • Section 108 of the M.P. Land Revenue Code, 1959 - A record of rights shall in accordance with rules made in this behalf be prepared and maintained for every village.
  • Section 121 of the M.P. Land Revenue Code, 1959 - The State Government may make rules for regulating the preparation, maintenance and revision of land records required for the purposes of this Code.
  • Section 158 of the M.P. Land Revenue Code, 1959 - Every person who at the time of coming into force of this Code, belongs to any of the following classes mentioned in this proviso shall be called a Bhumiswami and shall have all the rights and be subject to all the liabilities.

Overview

  • The subject matter of this suit is the order of Madhya Pradesh High Court allowing the petitions of the Priest Association in which the circular directing the removal of name of the priests from the Revenue Records was quashed.
  • The Supreme Court referred to the judgments of the High Court in Ghanshyamdas v. State of M.P(1995), referred to as the ‘Ghanshyamdas I’ and Kashi Bhatti through LRs v. State of M.P. (2009)wherein the High Court held that the circulars issued during the year 1992 and 1994 were quashed earlier, therefore, there was no ground to issue a circular (2008) to follow the 1994 circular.
  • An appeal was preferred wherein the High Court referred to a judgment in State of M.P. v. Ghanshyamdas, referred to as the ‘Ghanshyamdas II’, an order passed against the order in writ petition reported as Ghanshyamdas I. The Court held that Pujaris had no right to alienate the properties of the temple to third parties and they have rights only to cultivate the land. It was further held that if the temple was managed by the Pujari, his name was to be indicated as Pujari and the name of the deity should be mentioned as well.
  • The Counsel for Appellant argued that the M.P. Land Revenue Code, 1959 confers power on the executive to issue guidelines and instructions. Under this power, the circular was issued keeping in mind the alarming situation wherein the Pujaris try to alienate the property.
  • The Counsel of the respondents argued that under Section 57 of the Code, Pujaris were conferred Bhumuswami rights and it cannot be taken away or restricted by an executive order. It was further contended that there were also eligible to be under Section 158 of the Code which provides that every person, in respect of land held in the Madhya Bharat region as a Pakka tenant or as a Muafidar, Inamdar or Concessional holder, as defined in the Madhya Bharat Land Revenue and Tenancy Act, Samvat 2007 (Act No. 66 of 1950), confers Bhumiswami rights on the Pujari.
  • The Supreme Court observed that there was different interpretation of the same subject matter by different High Courts. The Court also noted that in Ghanshyamdas I, the court was not appraised of the judgments of the Division Bench in Pancham Singh case or of this Court in Kanchaniya case, and the same are not referred in the judgment. The court thus held that the ownership rights of Pujari cannot be snatched by an executive order. The said judgment was overruled in Ghanshyamdas II.
  • This Court referred to Pancham Singh case and Kanchaniyacase to decide whether a priest can be treated as Bhumiswami under the Madhya Bharat Land Revenue and Tenancy Act, Samvat 2007 (Act No. 66 of 1950).
  • The Pujari is a manager of the property of deity and such possession can be taken back if the Pujari fails to do his work assigned to him, i.e., to offer prayers and manage the land. He cannot be thus treated as a Bhoomiswami. The Kanchaniya case clarifies that the rights of Pujari are not same as that of Kashtkar who are entitled to all rights including the right to alienate.
  • Another question which was considered was whether the State Government by way of executive instructions can order the deletion of name of Pujari from the revenue record and/or to insert the name of a Collector as manager of the temple.There was no explicit legal constrain or prohibition for issuing such orders, hence the order issued by the State Government is not illegal but valid.
  • The writ petition was thus dismissed and the appeal was allowed. Therefore, it was held that the circulars dated 21.3.1994 and 7.6.2008 cannot be said to be illegal in any manner.

Issue

  • Whether a priest under the Revenue Code be conferred as a Bhoomiswami?
  • Whether the State Government can order the deletion of name of Pujari from the revenue record?

Judgement Analysis

  • The Supreme Court, while considering various precedents for arriving at a conclusion, noted that there were many High Court judgements on the same but they were conflicting on many grounds.
  • The court noted that the High Court while relying on Shri Krishna v. State of MP held that all those persons who were granted land for religious services rendered by them as Pujari have been recognised as Bhumiswami under the Code. It also relied on Sadhasiv Giri v. Commissioner Ujjain (1985) and observed that the temple could not hold the land; hence, it is the Pujari who maintains and renders services to the temple that should possess the ownership.
  • The court held this verdict as erroneous and cited M. Siddiq (Dead) Through Legal Representatives v. Mahant Suresh Das and Others (2020), wherein the constitutional bench held that a Pujari is merely a servant and gains no independent right despite having conducted ceremonies over a period of time.
  • The court also clarified that the circular issued is applicable to both private and public temples as there is no explicit or implicit direction regarding the same.

Conclusion

It is a well settled principle that a deity is a juristic person and the land belonging to it belongs to itself. The Pujari is a servant who may act as a manager of temple affairs and his main duty is to offer prayers and rituals. While the Pujari can use it for cultivation, it can be used only for maintain the temple. The Pujari can cultivate for his own use but shall pay rent for the same as stipulated by relevant provisions of law. As the circular issued tries to bring down illegal mortgage and sale of temple property to third party, this direction by the Supreme Court tries to achieve the same.

Click here to download the original copy of the judgement

Interesting Questions to Analyse:

  1. Should the temple Pujari conducting and maintaining the temple be considered as Bhoomiswami?
  2. Should this direction be applicable to even private temples?
 
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