Deity is owner of land attached to temple: SC

According to supreme court bench comprising of Justices Hemant Gupta and A S Bopanna, Deity is the owner of land attached to a temple.

Supreme Court’s ruling

  • According to the bench, a priest cannot be treated as Bhumiswami (owner of land).
  • The priest holds the land just for the management of property of the temple.
  • SC bench noted that, ownership column only requires the name of the deity alone because deity as a juristic person is the owner of the land.
  • Occupation of the land is also by the deity which is carried out by servant or managers in behalf of the deity. Thus, name of the manager or priest is not required to be mentioned in the column of occupier.

SC’s stand on priests

  • According to the bench, law clearly notes that Pujari is not a tenant in cultivation (Kashtkar Mourushi) or a government lessee or ordinary tenant of the land exempted from payment of revenue (maufi lands). But he holds such land on behalf of Aukaf Department (relating to Devasthan) for its management.
  • Priest is only a grantee to manage the property of the deity. Such grantees can be reassumed if he fails to do the task assigned to him such as to offer prayers and manage the land.

Can collector be the manager of property?

SC bench notes that, name of the Collector as manager cannot be recorded with respect to the property vested in the deity because Collector cannot be a manager of all temples unless the temple is vested with the State.

Background

PIL was filed by Madhya Pradesh against an order of High Court that put down the two circulars issued by state government under the MP Law Revenue Code, 1959. Both the circulars ordered to delete the names of priests from the revenue record in order to protect the temple properties from unauthorised sale by priests.

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