Justice GR Swaminathan of Madras High Court held an emergent sitting on Sunday over Whatsapp. and heard a Petition preferred by the Hereditary Trustee of Arulmighu Abheeshta Varadarajaswamy Temple, Papparapatti Agraharam, Pennagaram Taluk, Dharmapuri District.

The Petitioners prayed for the issuance of a Writ of Certiorari calling for the quashing of an order passed by the Inspector HR&CE. To that end, the Madras High Court held that "Any power is coupled with duty. If the Government, through the HR & CE Department wants to have control and supervision over temple administration, it has the twin duty of ensuring that the traditional festivals are held to ensuring that safety standards are adhered to. The local body has to maintain the roads in a pucca condition. TANGEDCO must disconnect the electricity supply. The authorities under the HR&CE Act are obliged to ensure that the safety norms laid down in the aforesaid G.O. are met."

Advocate General Mr R Shunmugasundaram assisted by Mr Muthukumar appeared for the Respondents. Mr V Raghavachari appeared for the Petitioner.

In the Petition, the Petitioners contended that their village would face divine wrath if they are unable to hold the Rath festival. The Petitioner submitted before the Court that the festival had been held every year for 8 decades, until the outbreak of COVID. It was then submitted by the Petitioner that when steps were taken to hold the procession this year, the Inspector, HR&CE, put spokes in the chariot wheels by issuing the impugned communication on 13.05.2022 instructing the Fit Person as well as the hereditary trustee not to hold the Rath festival.

The Advocate General submitted before the Court that the State was not opposed to the holding of the event, and only was concerned about the safety of the public and the members. The Advocate General gave the Court the example of a tragedy that took place in a similar procession, due to the non-adherence of safety standards. To that end, the Advocate General submitted that after the defects pointed out in the impugned communication are rectified, the procession can very well be conducted and the State may not have any objection.

The Court held that the Inspector had issued the communication without jurisdiction, and therefore it must be quashed.

Further, the Court highlighted the importance of such customary festivals, and to that end held that the HR&CE department has to facilitate the holding of such customary festivals.

Relying on the case of Sarika Vs Shri Mahakaleshwar Mandir Committee, the Court opined that there is a constitutional obligation to preserve the religious practices of all religion. To that end, it was held that "It is the bounden duty of the government to make proper arrangements and to sanction the amount without fear of violation of the concept of secularism. Respectfully following the aforesaid ratio, I hold that it is the duty of the HR&CE department as well as the state government and the local administration to put in place all the necessary arrangements so that the customary religious festivals are smoothly conducted."

The Court directed the Respondents to ensure that the Rath festival is conducted without any mishap.

Click here to read/download the Order