In a significant ruling, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court Wednesday said that government authorities including the police are expected to work with a ‘secular mind’ and need to adhere to ’truth’ by exercising a ‘scientific approach’ as suggested in the Constitution. The court also said that they should avoid ‘general fear’ of inviting trouble if the case involves religious feelings and that initiating action can be viewed as an ‘act against god.’
Maintaining this, the Court directed the Maharashtra government and the police to register a case against the Trustees of Jagadamba Devi Charitable Trust, Mohote in Ahmednagar district and other persons for ‘illegal acts’ committed since 2011 including burying of around 2 kilograms of gold in the name of ‘Suvarna Yantras’ and misappropriating Rs 25 lakh as additional expenditure for performing ceremonies in respect of the same among acts.
On February 3, a division bench of Justice Tanaji V Nalawade and Justice Mukund G Sewlikar passed a judgment on a writ petition filed by a social worker and former trustee Namdev Sahebrao Garad (52) through advocate Ajinkya S Kale instructed by Talekar and Associates, seeking to register FIR against the persons involved in the commission of the crime in 2011 and afterward and sought records and audits of the Trust between 2009-2019 including details of precious metals collected and procedure undertaken on it.
Garad also submitted that Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (ANIS), in the year 2017, had made a complaint to the Police to take action for alleged illegal activity, however, no cognizance was taken, prompting him to approach the High Court.
However, senior counsel Rajendra Deshmukh representing the temple Trust denied all allegations and submitted that the management had earlier considered petitioners’ complaints and they came to be rejected.
After perusing submissions and material on record, the Court observed that it was ‘surprising’ that even when the District Judge was a member of the Trust, he accepted the proposals made by the architect to construct structures for the ceremony involving burying of ‘Suvarna Yantras.’
The court also noted that the religious Trusts can work for the upliftment of poor people in the locality and for area development.
In view of this, the bench observed, “When these are expectations from management, these days complaints are received against many managements that they are not properly managing the trust and they are spending the money and they are disposing of the property of the trust illegally. In most of the trusts, the manner of collection of donations and offerings is not proper and that gives the opportunity to persons in control to misappropriate the property of the Trust.”
The court held that activities of the Trustees in present case ‘certainly fall under the prohibited acts mentioned under the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013 and are not permitted by the Maharashtra Public Trust Act.
Pulling up the authorities, the Court noted, “The record of so-called inquiry made by the clerical staff of the Trust office, inaction on the part of Deputy Charity Commissioner in the case and inquiry made by police into the matter show the authorities have no courage to take any action even when such serious thing has happened.”
The bench noted that that inaction might have happened due to ‘general fear’ in the minds of authorities which led to avoiding taking steps against the Trust Committee. “The general fear may be of different kinds, like the possibility that they may invite trouble as the matter involves religious feelings and it can be viewed as an act against God. In view of Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, this court holds that the authorities are expected to work with a secular mind in such cases and they need to adhere to the ‘truth’.”
Justice Nalawade, who authored the 26-page judgment, went on to remark: “The authority needs to have a scientific approach in such matters and they need to adhere to the provisions of law. With that approach, they need to make inquiries and investigations and take action. The authority cannot accept the religious propositions like made in the present matter for trustees as such propositions cannot be scientifically proved. If no such approach is adopted, ‘truth’ will always suffer defeat and the tendency like one shown by the trustees in the present matter will go on increasing.”
However, stating that the HC ‘cannot shirk its responsibility,’ the Court held that, if required, even the trustees such as the petitioner, can be made accused as one of the conspirators along with those others involved in the commission of crimes.
Disposing of the plea, the Court directed Police to register an FIR based on the complaint made by ANIS and that the investigation under Additional or Deputy Superintendent of Police be completed within six months.