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Sri Marthanda Varma (D) Thr. Lrs. & Anr. VERSUS State of Kerala & ors.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE/CIVIL ORIGINAL/INHERENT JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NO.2732 OF 2020 [Arising Out of Special Leave Petition (C) No.11295 of 2011]

SRI MARTHANDA VARMA (D) THR. LRs. & ANR. …Appellants

VERSUS

STATE OF KERALA & ORS. …Respondents

WITH CIVIL APPEAL NO. 2733 OF 2020

[Arising Out of Special Leave Petition (C) No.12361 of 2011]

FACTS

Sree ChithiraThirunal Balarama Varma who as Ruler of Covenanting State of Travancore had entered into a Covenant in May 1949 with the Government of India leading to the formation of the United State of Travancore and Cochin, died on 19.07.1991. His younger brother Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma and the Executive Officer of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Temple’) as appellants 1 and 2 respectively have filed these appeals challenging the judgment and order dated 31.01.2011 passed by the High Court 1 in Writ Petition (Civil) No.36487 of 2009 and in Writ Petition (Civil) No.4256 of 2010.

Sundara Rajan, a practising Advocate praying that the High Court be pleased The High Court of Kerala at Ernakulum

Civil Appeal No. 2732 of 2020 (arising out of SLP(C)No.11295 of 2011) etc. Sri Marthanda Varma (D) Thr. LRs. & Anr. vs. State of Kerala and ors.

to issue a Writ of Quo Warranto directing the appellant No.2 herein to show the authority under which he was holding the post of Executive Officer of the Temple and that the State be directed to take immediate steps to administer the Temple on the lines of Guruvayoor Devaswom. The Writ Petition was filed by the licensee of premises belonging to the Temple, against whom the management had taken steps for eviction.

Issues

“The Central issue arising in these two connected W.P. Is whether the younger brother of the last Ruler of Travancore could after the death of the last Ruler on 20.07.1991 claim to be the “Ruler of Travancore” within the meaning of that term contained in Section 18(2) of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 (hereinafter called “the TC Act”) to claim ownership, control and management of the ancient and great Temple in Kerala namely, the Sree  Padmanabha Swamy Temple located in Trivandrum.” The High Court concluded that after the definition of ‘Ruler’ appearing in Article 366 (22) of the Constitution of India was amended by the Constitution (Twenty Sixth Amendment) Act, 1971, the appellant No.1 could not claim to be in control or management of the Temple as successor to the last Ruler. The High Court thereafter issued the following directions:-

“i) There shall be a direction to the State Government to immediately take steps to constitute a body corporate or trust or Civil Appeal No. 2732 of 2020 (arising out of SLP(C)No.11295 of 2011) etc. Sri Marthanda Varma (D) Thr. LRs. & Anr. vs. State of Kerala and ors.

other legal authority to take over control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, it’s assets and management and to run the same in accordance with all the traditions hitherto followed. This shall be done within a period of three months from now.

ii) There will be an order of injunction against petitioners in W.P.(C) No.4256/2010 who are respondents 3 and 5 in the other W.P.(C) against opening of any of the Kallaras or removing any of the articles from the Temple. However, they are free to use such of the articles required for rituals, ceremonies and regular poojas in the Temple until Temple is taken over by the Authority as stated above.

iii) There will be direction to the authority constituted by the Government to open all Kallaras, make inventory of the entire articles and create a Museum and exhibit all the treasures of the Temple for the public, devotees and the tourists to view the same which could be arranged on payment basis in the Temple premises itself. The first petitioner in W.P.(C) No.4256/2010 and the successors from the Royal Family should be permitted to participate in the rituals in the Temple like the Arattu Procession, which is symbolic of the presence of the “Padmanabhadasa” in the Festival.

iv) Considering the valuables and treasures in the Temple, the Government should consider handing over security of the Temple to a team of Police or atleast provide assistance to the Temple security staff.

Judgement

The agreements entered into by the Rulers of the States with the Government of India were simple documents relating to the accession and the integration and the “assurances and guarantees” given under those documents were only for the fixation of the privy purses and the recognition of the privileges. The guarantees and the assurances given under the Constitution were independent of those documents. After the advent of the Constitution, the Rulers enjoyed their right to privy purses, private properties and privileges only by the force of the Constitution and in other respects they were only ordinary citizens of India like any other citizen; of course, this is an accident of history and with the concurrence of the Indian people in their Constituent Assembly.

After the commencement of the Constitution, in pursuance of Article 366(22), the Rulers were recognised and they had been enjoying the privy purses, privileges, dignities etc. on the basis of the relevant constitutional provisions. Pursuant to the resolution passed by the All India Congress Committee in 1967, the Union of India introduced the Twenty-fourth Amendment Bill in 1970 to implement the decision of the All India Congress Committee Civil Appeal No. 2732 of 2020 (arising out of SLP(C)No.11295 of 2011) etc. Sri Marthanda Varma (D) Thr. LRs. &  anr vs. State of Kerala and ors.

The Bill though passed in the Lok Sabha failed to secure the requisite majority in the Rajya Sabha and thereby it lapsed. It was only thereafter, the President of India issued an Order in exercise of the powers vested in him under Article 366(22) de-recognising the Rulers and stopping the privy purses, privileges etc. enjoyed by the Rulers. This Order passed by the President was the subject- matter of challenge in Madhav Rao12. The Supreme Court struck down the Order of the President as invalid as in the view of the Court de-recognition of the Rulers would not take away right to privy purses when Articles 291 and 362 were in the Constitution.

It was only in that context, the observations which have been relied upon by Mr Soli J. Sorabjee, were made. The Twenty-sixth Amendment itself was passed by Parliament to overcome the effect of this judgment. Now by this Amendment, Articles 291 and 362 are omitted, Article 363-A is inserted and clause (22) of Article 366 is amended. Therefore, one cannot be allowed to say that the abovesaid omitted articles and unamended clause were the essential part of the constitutional scheme. So they have to be read only in the context of a challenge made to the Presidential Order which sought to render nugatory certain rights guaranteed in the Constitution which were then existing. In any event, the constitutional bar of Article 363 denudes the jurisdiction of any Court in disputes arising from covenants and treaties executed by the Rulers. The statement of Objects and Reasons of Twenty-sixth Amendment clearly points out that the retention of the above articles and continuation of the privileges and privy purses would be incompatible with the egalitarian society assured in the Constitution and, therefore, in order to remove the concept of rulership and terminate the recognition granted to Rulers and abolish the privy purses, this Amendment was brought on being felt necessary.

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