The Patna High Court held that before the issuance of order for appointment of trustee under 28(1)(u) of the Bihar Hindu Religious Trusts Act, 1950 (Act), the Bihar State Board of Religious Trust (Board) must adhere to the principles of natural justice by providing an opportunity of hearing to the affected/interested person.

The Court allowed a Writ Petition seeking to quash the letter appointing another individual as the Trustee of the temple.

The Court noted that in writ jurisdiction, Courts can declare orders unsustainable for being illegal, lacking jurisdiction, or violating natural justice principles under Article 226, without strict adherence to statutory time limits.

The Bench of Justice Harish Kumar observed, “that before passing any order or making decision under 28(2)(u) has cautioned the Board to adhere to the principles of natural justice and to provide opportunity of hearing to the interested/evicted person”.

Advocate Shashi Nath Jha appeared for the Petitioner, Standing Counsel Rishi Raj Sinha appeared for the State and Senior Advocate Ganpati Trivedi appeared for the Bihar State Board of Religious Trust (Board).

The Petitioner, claiming to be the Shebait of Sri Ram Janki Mandir, Sonpatahi (Babubarhi), filed a writ petition seeking to quash a letter appointing another individual as Trustee of the temple. The Petitioner also sought a declaration that neither the Bihar State Board of Religious Trust nor the appointed trustee has any authority over the temple's lands and properties, requesting protection for the legal rights and possession of the deities and the Petitioner. The Petitioner asserted that the temple was a private and personal temple of the donor's family, with no involvement of the general public or the Board.

The Court noted that Section 32(i) of the Act empowered the Board to settle schemes for the proper administration of religious trusts. However, it required an application or complaint filed by two or more interested persons for the Board to take cognizance. The Court noted that instead of conducting spot verification or seeking reports from local authorities, the Board relied on recommendations from Akhada of Ayodhya, which had no connection with the temple.

The Bench emphasized that before making decisions under Section 28(2)(u), the Board must adhere to the principles of natural justice and provide an opportunity for a hearing to the interested or evicted person. The Court observed that the impugned order for the appointment of a trustee was passed without any inquiry or notice to the affected person. The Bench also noted that the petitioner owned relevant documents, and the challenge to Respondent no.6's appointment made by the Petitioner's father remained unanswered.

Regarding the plea of delay and the argument that the writ petition was barred by limitation, the Court observed that any order without jurisdiction, void ab initio, could be challenged at any time. The Court rejected the contention of estoppel raised by the Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts, emphasizing that there cannot be estoppel against the law.

It is needless to observe that no law of limitation applies in a writ jurisdiction and wherever and whenever this Court while exercising power of extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution can hold and declare any order unsustainable, if it is found to be per se illegal, without jurisdiction and in complete violation of the principles of natural justice”, the Bench noted.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Petition, set aside the impugned order and directed the Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts to reconsider the matter.

Cause Title: Ajay Kumar Mahto v The State of Bihar

Click here to read/download Judgment