The Madras High Court while dealing with a writ petition filed in respect of the control over the secular and non-secular affairs of Shri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam, Trichy ruled that the accounts of the said temple are properly audited and therefore, there is no need of any audit by CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General).

A Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice T. Raja and Justice D. Krishnakumar stated –

"Apart from the above, it is seen that the accounts of the Srirangam Arulmighu Ranganatha Swamy temple are properly audited and the audit has been completed upto Fasli 1430, namely, 30.06.2021. Moreover, the accounts of the temple are audited by the Audit Department of Hindu Religious Institutions, which is under the control of the Finance Department, Government of Tamil Nadu. This apart, a perusal of The Comptroller and Auditor General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971 (in short "the Act") shows that if any authority or body has to be audited by the CAG, the said authority or body should fall within the provisions of the Act."

The Bench further said that the audit by the CAG invoking the powers under the Comptroller and Auditor General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971, does not arise, for, the temple in question under the control of the HR&CE Department is not established/created under any statute.

The Petitioner Rangarajan Narasimhan appeared in person, while Senior Counsel V. Giri appeared for Respondent No. 1, Advocate General R.Shunmugasundaram appeared for Respondents 2 and 3 and many other Counsels appeared for other parties before the Court.

The Bench while dismissing the petition observed, "Besides, it is to be noted that in the State of Tamil Nadu, the assets and financial accounts of the temples are being audited by the respective temples and this is being scrutinized by the separate Audit Department Unit under the control of the Indian Civil Service Officer and Finance Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu, hence, the prayer of the petitioner seeking a direction to the CAG to conduct an audit of the temple in question is not legally sustainable, hence, the same is liable to fail."

Facts of the Case –

The petitioner named Rangarajan Narasimhan is an ardent practitioner of Sanatana Dharma and a follower of Sri Vaishnava tradition who sought the issuance of a writ of mandamus against the respondents i.e., The Board of Trustees of the temple, The Commissioner of the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department and The Executive Officer/ Joint Commissioner of the temple. The petitioner sought the following reliefs before the Court –

1. to conduct an audit in the temple from 2000 till date;

2. to appoint a committee of trustworthy persons headed by the Hindu Judge of the Court comprising experts for a period of 3 years;

3. to conduct daily Poojas, Utsavas and other religious activities in the temple as laid down by the Agama Shastras and Sri Vaishnava Sampradhaya; and

4. to direct the Commissioner to remove the Executive Officer as per the order passed by the Court

The petitioner submitted before the Court that he is interested in the preservation of the religious institutions and sanctity of the Sanathana Dharma religion and claimed that he does not have any personal interest. He further submitted that the respondents have formed a league among themselves and they have been ruling the temple with no regard to the age-old tradition. He argued that the Board of Trustees misused the powers and appointed numerous touts in the temple who have no connection with the affairs of the temple and also made several changes in the physical structure of the temple including the celestial body of the main deity of Shri Ranganatha Swamy.

Therefore, left with no other remedy, the petitioner filed such Public Interest Litigation. It was also submitted by the petitioner that when several complaints were made to the official respondents, they never bothered to acknowledge any of his complaints. He also claimed that the respondents are acting against the philosophy of Sri Vaishnava Sampradhaya and they have even denied the right to worship as guaranteed under the Constitution of India to many devotees.

The Court with regard to the first grievance of the petitioner said, "… since the person concerned got transferred and that in his place, one Mr. Marimuthu has been appointed as Executive Officer of the temple in question, the allegation made by the petitioner has become infructuous."

While considering the second grievance of the petitioner that the activities of the respondents are against religious affairs and the Hindu Judge be appointed, the Court noted that such an allegation has been replied to by the Joint Commissioner in his counter affidavit and the petitioner has neither challenged the scheme of administration upheld by the Court nor the orders of the Board, hence, the present writ petition is not legally maintainable.

With respect to the third grievance of the petitioner that some of the daily poojas are not performed by the respondents, the Court observed, "… no evidence has been produced how the regular poojas performed by the temple authorities have been given up or modified. On the other hand, the counter affidavits filed by the authorities would depict that they have been performing the poojas in all the auspicious and festival days in accordance with Agama Sastras and in all those days, many devotees have been allowed to exercise their right to worship from morning to night. Therefore, these are the matters to be delved into by the competent Civil Court so that the parties can very well adduce their oral and documentary evidence and hence, this Court sitting under Article 226 of the Constitution of India cannot intervene in a religious matter."

The Court while dealing with the fourth grievance regarding the audit of the temple said that the Commissioner in his counter-affidavit mentioned that the Government is providing financial assistance to various religious institutions as a grant for its maintenance and therefore, for those temples, an audit cannot be done by the CAG and elicited some of the financial assistance granted to the temple by the Government.

The Court concluded, "… there is no any material evidence produced to show mal-administration or malafide functioning of the temple in question. Thus, for all the reasons stated above, we are of the considered view that the writ petition is devoid of any merit…"

Accordingly, the Court dismissed the petition after finding no merit in the same.

Cause Title - Rangarajan Narasimhan v. The Board of Trustees, Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple and Ors.

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