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Veruareddi Ramaraghava Reddy Vs Konduru Seshu Reddy (1966): Worshipper May Initiate Proceedings Against The Shebait For The Right Of The Deity In Trust Properties

Ashwitaa Shetty ,
  23 October 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
1967 AIR 436, 1966 SCR 270

Crux:
Worshipper may initiate proceedings against the shebait for the right of the deity in trust properties.

Date of Judgement:
26th April 1966

Bench:
Ramaswami, V.,Subbarao, K.

Parties:
Petitioner:Veruareddi Ramaraghava Reddy
Respondent:Konduru Seshu Reddy.


Subject

This case dealt with whether Section 42 of Specific Relief, 1963 Act can grant a person not entitled to legal character or any right in the property sued for enforcement of declaratory decree. It was held that Section 42 is not exhaustive in nature and the court at its discretion may grant such declaratory decree,

Legal Provisions

Section 42 of Specific Relief Act, 1963- Any personmay institute a suit against any person denying or interested to deny his title to the suit or any legal character and the court may, at its discretion, grant such relief and may make a declaration therein that he is so entitled.

Overview

  • The plaintiff filed a petition before the Assistant Commissioner alleging mismanagement of the temple and its properties by the defendant. In pursuance to the petition, notice was issued to the defendant to show cause as to why the temple properties should not leased to the public auction.
  • The defendant contended that the temple and its properties were his family’s personal properties.On recommendations of the Assistant Commissioner, a scheme of Management for administration of the temple and its properties was initiated by the Hindu Religious Endowments Board.
  • The Board after an enquiry held that the temple was a public temple. Thereafter, the defendant filed an O.P. on the file of the District Judge for setting aside the order, declaration that the temple is a private temple and properties were personal property of the family.
  • The petitioner (defendants) and the commissioner, the respondent entered into compromise and thereby a compromise decree was passed by the District Judge on the 28th October 1954.
  • As per the decree, petitioners were declared as hereditary trustees and they had to pay the temple in cash and kind for its maintenance further, the temple was declared to be a public temple. The properties in schedule A were declared personal properties of the defendants.
  • A suit was instituted in October 1955 for declaration that the lands mentioned as personal properties of defendants and not absolute properties of the temple to be held invalid and not binding on the temple.
  • The defendants objected to the suit on the ground that declaration cannot be sought on part of decree and declaration should have been directed towards the entirety of decree. However, the suit was dismissed by the trial court as defective and on the ground that Section 93 of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act was a bar to the suit.
  • The plaintiff appealed the decree of the trial court in the High Court and prayed for the amendment of compromise decree. The High Court allowed amendment of the decree and stated that the amendment cured the defect and further held that Section 93 of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments was not a bar to the suit and Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act was not exhaustive and therefore the suit was maintainable and thereby remanded the suit to the Trial Court.
  • The appellants contended that if the requirements of Section 42 of Specific Relief Act are not fulfilled no relief can be granted in a suit for mere declaration. Since the plaintiff had asked for setting aside of the compromise decree and not declaration of his legal character as a worshipper, the conditions of Section 42 of the Specific Relief are not satisfied and therefore, the suit is not maintainable.


Issues

  • Whether the suit was barred by the provisions of Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act?
  • Whether the compromise decree was invalid on the ground that the deity was not party to it?

Judgement Analysis

  • It was observed that the declaration sought by the plaintiff was to restore the deity to the title in the trust property and to declare the compromise decree null and void which in itself shall grant substantial relief to the deity.
  • The respondents relied on the decision of the Judicial Committee in Sheoparsan Singh v. Ramnandan Prasad Singh wherein it was pointed out that the plaintiff should be entitled to legal character or to right in the property under Section 42 of Specific Relief Act.
  • The court observed that as the shebait had alienated the trust property, the suit can be initiated by any interested party on the ground that such alienation is not binding on the deity, however no decree for recovery of possession of property can be made unless the plaintiff has a present right in property.
  • It was further observed that Section 42 of Specific Relief Act is not exhaustive as to the cases in which declaratory decree may be made and the courts can at their discretion grant such a decree independently of the requirements of the section. Therefore, the suit was maintainable.
  • It was also questioned whether the compromise decree was valid and whether the commissioner had authority in representing the deity. In response to this, it was stated by the High Court that the commissioner had only control and superintendence of all endowments but did not possess any authority to represent the deity. It was only the shebait who could represent the deity or bring a suit on behalf of the deity.
  • The management and possession including the right to sue vests with shebait. In this case, the shebait has acted negligently against whom the deity needs relief. In such a circumstance, it is open for worshippers, disinterested next friends and religious endowments to file suit for protection of trust properties. A similar opinion was given in the case of PramathNath v Pradymna Kumar, where in a suit between contending she baits, the will of the idol should be respected and represented by a disinterested next friend appointed by the court.
  • It was observed by the Supreme Court as stated above that no representation of the deity was made in the judicial proceedings and therefore the contention of the respondents that the compromise decree cannot be binding on the temple was held valid.
  • The Supreme Court while granting declaratory decree stated that the compromise decree was not valid and binding on the temple.
  • It was held that the suit was outside the scope of Section 4 of Specific Relief Act and would be governed by the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code and therefore the suit was maintainable even though the worshipper was not suing as person entitled to any legal character or any right to the property as required under the provisions of Section 42 of Specific Relief Act.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court held that Section 42 of Specific Relief Act, 1963 is not exhaustive in cases where a declaratory decree may be made, and the courts have power to grant declaratory decree at their discretion. It was noted that the suit was outside the purview of Section 42 and therefore provisions of Civil Procedure Code would apply. The suit was maintainable even though the plaintiff was suing not as a person entitled to property as required under Section 42 of Specific Relief Act, 1963.

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