Supreme Court of India
Ramachnadrapura Math vs Sri Samsthana Mahabaleshwara … on 19 April, 2021Author: Hon’Ble The Justice




CIVIL APPEAL NOS.1631­1636/2021
(Arising out of S.L.P. (Civil) Nos.24015­24020 of 2018)

Ramachnadrapura Math .…Petitioner (s)


Sri Samsthana Mahabaleshwara
Devaru & Ors. …. Respondent(s)


Civil Appeal No.1637/2021 @ SLP (C) No.24321/2018
Civil Appeal Nos.1638­1643/2021 @ SLP (C) Nos.6443­
6448/2021 (D.No.6578/2021)


1. The petitioners are before this Court claiming to be

aggrieved by the order dated 10.08.2018 passed by the High

Signature Not Verified Court of Karnataka in W.P. No.30609/2008 and connected
Digitally signed by
Sanjay Kumar
Date: 2021.04.19
16:20:15 IST
Reason: petitions. The issue raised in the petitions was with regard to

the status of ‘Gokarna Mahabaleshwara Temple’. A

Notification dated 30.04.2003/01.05.2003 was issued under

Section 23 of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and

Charitable Endowments Act, 1997 notifying the temples

mentioned therein as coming within the purview of the Act. In

the said notification, the ‘Gokarna Mahabaleshwara Temple’

was also included at Serial No.92. The said position remained

so until the petitioners herein claiming to be aggrieved by

such notification made a representation seeking that the

temple be deleted from the notification since according to

them it was attached to the petitioners’ ‘Mutt’ and was

therefore not covered by the Act in view of Section 1(4) of the

Act, 1997. Pursuant thereto the official respondents through

the Government Order dated 12.08.2008 ordered the deletion

of ‘Shri Mahabaleshwara Temple’, Gokarna from the list of

notified temples published on 30.04.2003. The Deputy

Commissioner was accordingly directed to hand over the

administration of the temple to the petitioner ‘Mutt’.
2. The said Government Order dated 12.08.2008

whereunder the temple was de­notified was assailed in public

interest by the devotees and representatives of the former

trustees by filing writ petitions in the High Court of

Karnataka. All the writ petitions were taken up together for

consideration by the Division Bench and on a detailed

consideration the Government Order dated 12.08.2008 was

quashed, result of which was that the temple in question

remained to be a notified temple under Act, 1997. It was held

that a determination was required to be made as to whether

the temple belonged to the ‘Mutt’ by a competent Civil Court

since disputed questions of fact cannot be decided in a writ

petition. However, taking note of various other aspects

including the validity of Act, 1997 itself pending

consideration before this Court, the Division Bench has

constituted the Committee termed as “Overseeing Committee”

under the Chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner, Uttara

Kannada District and also requested a former Judge of this

Court to be the advisor to the said committee. The said

arrangement was made till the committee in terms of Act,

1997 is constituted.

3. The petitioner ‘Mutt’ would, therefore, get divested of

the right to administer the temple and, as such, claiming to

be aggrieved is before this Court. The Division Bench of the

High Court on pronouncing the order, at the request on

behalf the petitioner herein had stayed the implementation of

the order for a period of one month due to which petitioner

continues to be in charge. This Court while directing notice to

the respondent on 07.09.2018 extended the benefit of the

interim order granted by the High Court, which was

thereafter clarified to indicate that the status quo was to be

4. In that light though the petitions were taken up for

final consideration, it was noticed that the hearing of the

petition will have to be exhaustive and will require deeper

consideration. That apart, the Act, 1997 under which the

notification was made in the year 2003, was thereafter

declared as unconstitutional by the Division Bench of the

High Court of Karnataka in another proceeding, through the

judgment dated 08.09.2006. The said judgment is assailed

before this Court in the case of State of Karnataka vs.

Sahasra Lingesshwara in C.A. No.5924/2008 wherein the

judgment of the High Court is stayed through the order dated

12.07.2007. Thus, the result in the said appeal would also

have a bearing on this case, apart from the factual aspects

involved in these petitions which require deeper

consideration. We therefore deem it proper to admit these

petitions for hearing by granting leave.

5. Delay condoned in SLP @ D.No.6578/21. Leave granted

in all the petitions.

6. Sri. S.S. Nagananda, learned senior counsel appearing

for the contesting respondents would however make out a

grievance that the petitioners taking benefit of the interim

extension of the limited interim order granted by the High

Court will continue to be in charge of the temple, to the

detriment of the devotees despite the High Court having

upheld the notification under Section 23 of Act, 1997 and the

order dated 12.08.2008 being quashed. Since we have

granted leave and the appeals will have to be heard in usual

course, merely allowing the status quo order made earlier

would work to the detriment of the contesting respondents

and other devotees despite having succeeded in the petition

before the High Court. At the same time, it would not be just

if the interim order is vacated in entirety and allow the

takeover of the temple in terms of the notification under

Section 23 of Act, 1997. The equities are to be balanced.

Hence in our opinion an appropriate interim arrangement to

protect the interest of all parties is to be made pending

consideration of the appeals on merit.

7. In that background Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi,

learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner ‘Mutt’ and

Shri Ranjit Kumar, learned senior counsel appearing for the

State of Karnataka were heard, who have contended to assail

the judgment passed by the High Court, while Shri S.S.

Nagananda, learned senior counsel has sought to support the

view taken by the High Court. Similarly, we have heard other

learned counsel and perused the petition papers limited to

the extent of considering the interim arrangement.

8. The petitioners contended with regard to the history of

the ‘Mutt’ dating back to the 8th Century A.D. and being

established by Adi Shankaracharya who established the

‘Mutt’ at Gokarna and ordered his disciples to look after the

affairs of the ‘Mutt’ and the Gokarna Temple. However, a

trust was created to manage the temple only to meet the

requirement under the Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950 (‘BPT

Act’ for short). But it is contended that it has been

subsequently held that BPT Act is not applicable to

Karnataka. The present pontiff i.e., petitioner No.2 is stated

to be the 36th pontiff in an unbroken line. In that light the

right of the ‘Mutt’ over the temple is contended and reference

is made to Section 1(4) of Act, 1997 which makes the Act

inapplicable in respect of the temples belonging to the ‘Mutt’.

The contesting respondents however, dispute the position

and have referred to the consideration made by the High

Court to hold otherwise.

9. From the rival contentions what is relevant ultimately

is to consider whether the factual aspect relating to the

status of the temple i.e. whether it belongs to the ‘Mutt’ has

been established in accordance with the requirement under

law to establish the factual position. At the outset, it is to be

noted that the notification under Section 23 of the Act, 1997

is dated 30.04.2003/01.05.2003 and the position of the

temple being governed under the provisions of the Act was

accepted by the appellants for nearly five years until the

representation was made by the appellants as late as on

18.03.2008. Dr. Singhvi on referring to the said

representation has pointed to the proposal forwarded by the

Tehsildar, Kumta to the Assistant Commissioner and the

opinion of the Assistant Commissioner being considered by

the Deputy Commissioner, Commissioner and ultimately the

opinion of the learned Advocate General being taken note,

after which the Government Order dated 12.08.2008 was

passed by the Government of Karnataka. We do not find

anything to suggest that an enquiry was initiated under the

Act and parties were made aware that the Authorities were

enquiring into the question whether the temple belongs to the

Math or not. Such an enquiry would naturally have entailed

an opportunity to lead evidence.

10. The High Court though had taken note of the said

documents was ultimately of the view that the factual

determination relating to the status of the temple belonging

to the ‘Mutt’ or not was to be decided in a civil suit. It is also

contended that in another proceedings in Writ Appeal

No.5131/2008, through the order dated 15.12.2008 it was

held therein also that the jurisdiction of the civil court is to

be invoked to decide the disputed question of fact. The

learned senior counsel for the appellants would, however,

contend that Section 68 of Act, 1997 bars the jurisdiction of

the civil court and in that circumstance the conclusion

reached by the Commissioner based on the report submitted

by the Tehsildar, Assistant Commissioner and the Deputy

Commissioner should be held as conclusive on that aspect.

Though such contention is put forth, no documents to

establish the fact of the temple belonging to the ‘Mutt’ was

brought to our notice from the records nor was any such

document shown to have been relied upon by the Tehsildar or

the Commissioner in support of their recommendation. As

noted, on all these aspects the above appeals will require a

detailed consideration. One other aspect which is also

brought to our notice is a subsequent amendment introduced

in the year 2012 to Act, 1997 through Section 20­A wherein

the disputed questions of the present nature has been left to

be decided by the ‘Rajya Dharmika Parishad’. Therefore, in

the instant facts the nature of consideration to be made will

arise at a later stage.

11. However, prima facie for the present, a perusal of the

consideration made from the initiation of the proceedings by

the Tehsildar on 20.02.2008 would indicate that the

determination of the status is not based on the evidence or

material relied upon in that regard. The Tehsildar, on the

other hand, has based the conclusion to recommend the

entrustment of the administration of the temple to the ‘Mutt’

in view of the overall improvement and also the opinion

expressed by the President of Gram Panchayat, Gokarna

which would not be sufficient to satisfy the requirement of

Section 1(4) of Act, 1997. The further consideration made by

the Assistant Commissioner, upto Commissioner and the

proceedings of the Government resulting in the order dated

12.08.2008 to delete the temple, prima facie indicates to be

an unilateral proceedings to which the contesting

respondents were not parties. In a matter where rival

contentions are being urged by the appellants and the

contesting respondents relating to the status of the temple,

appropriate determination/adjudication is required to be

made in accordance with law after providing opportunity to


12. All the above aspects would require detail

consideration. The position remains that from the period of

the notification in the year 2003 the authorities under the Act

were in charge of the affairs of the temple till the impugned

order dated 12.08.2008 was passed. Subsequently since the

High Court has set aside the said order dated 12.08.2008, in

the usual course the inclusion of the temple in the

notification issued under Section 23 of Act, 1997 would revive

and the administration will have to be made as provided

under the Act. However, since a final decision is to be taken

in these appeals, it would not be appropriate to allow that

course. Instead, the appropriate course in the interest of the

temple as well as the devotees as also the ‘Mutt’ would be to

allow the administration of the temple by an independent

committee so that the temple is administered in an

appropriate manner for the benefit of all devotees until a final

determination is made.

13. To that extent, as already noticed the High Court while

quashing the Government Order dated 12.08.2008 and

holding that the temple shall continue to be included in the

list of notified institutions as per Section 23 of Act, 1997;

pending constitution of the Committee of Management for the

temple under the provisions of the Act had constituted an

“Overseeing Committee”. Presently since we are of the view

that a detailed consideration will be necessary herein and the

validity of the Act, 1997 is also pending in a collateral

proceeding, as an interim arrangement the said ‘Overseeing

Committee’ shall administer the temple pending

consideration of this appeal. There shall be a minor

modification in the composition of the committee formed by

the High Court.

14. In that view, in modification of all earlier interim orders

we direct that the ‘Overseeing Committee’ shall function

under the Chairmanship of Hon’ble Justice Sri. B.N.

Srikrishna, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India and

manage the affairs of the temple in all respects. The

Overseeing Committee shall consist of the following as

(i) Deputy Commissioner, Uttara Kannada District
(ii) Superintendent of Police, Uttara Kannada District
(iii) Assistant Commissioner, Kumta Sub­Division,

(iv) Two eminent persons/scholars, capable of

discharging their functions as members of the

Committee, to be nominated by the State

Government; (v) Two Upadivantas of Gokarna Temple to be

nominated by the Deputy Commissioner in

consultation with the State Government. The

committee shall oversee the functioning of the temple

by adhering to all traditions.

15. The two eminent persons and the two Upadivantas

indicated above to be members shall be nominated within 15

days from the date of this order and the committee shall take

over the management of the temple immediately thereafter,

which shall be subject to final orders to be made in these

appeals. The appellant ‘Mutt’ shall hand over charge of the

affairs of the temple to the Assistant Commissioner who shall

also act as Secretary to the ‘Overseeing Committee’.

16. Issue notice to respondents in SLP @ D.No.6578/21.

Pleadings be completed.

17. Ordered accordingly.

(S. A. Bobde)

(A.S. Bopanna)

(V. Ramasubramanian)
New Delhi,
April 19, 2021



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