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Supreme Court asks ‘why government officials should manage temples’, bench talks about rampant idol theft in Tamil Nadu

"In Tamil Nadu, there is theft of idols. These idols, apart from the religious sentiments, are priceless," the bench said.

Taking a note on increased interference of the state in the affairs of Hindu temples, the Supreme Court on Monday questioned the rationale behind government officials managing religious places and temples in the country, reported Live Law.

According to the reports, a bench of Justices SA Bobde and SA Nazeer while considering the issue of harassment to several devotees visiting the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha questioned as to why should government officials manage religious places and temples in the country.

“It is a matter of perspective. I do not know why government officials should manage temples?,” Justice Bobde observed while hearing a petition regarding the difficulties faced by the devotees at Jagannath temple and their alleged harassment and exploitation by the ‘sevaks’ (staff).

“In Tamil Nadu, there is theft of idols. These idols, apart from the religious sentiments, are priceless,” the bench said.

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Attorney General K K Venugopal told the apex court that Kerala’s Sabarimala temple was being run by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) while board appointed by governments were managing several other temples in the country. KK Venugopal further asked, “How far the government, in a secular state, can control or manage a temple.”

Observing the report filed by the amicus curiae senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, the Supreme Court bench said “People (visiting the temple) are harassed due to several reasons. Priests restrict them. Lot of them do not have a voice. They are poor and uneducated.”

During the hearing, one of the lawyers, who had filed an intervention application in the matter, said the petition was not maintainable further angering Justice Bobde.

Justice Bobde in his reply said, “It is enough. You are behaving in the most undignified manner in the court. We do not want to be shouted out. We do not want somebody to speak out of turn. You will not use the tone in which you are addressing the court.” The amicus had earlier told the court that one of the major issues at the temple was lack of proper crowd management and absence of queue system for devotees.

However, the counsel representing the Odisha said it was not easy to have a “typical queue system” for the devotees at the shrine, as its architecture was different. In July last year, the top court had directed the Jagannath temple management to consider allowing every visitor, irrespective of faith, to offer prayers to the deity.

The observation of the Supreme Court is welcoming as the ‘secular’ state has been interfering the affairs of the Hindus since its independence. The government has always attempted to regulate the affairs of the Hindu temple as they generate huge revenue in the form of receipts through offers and donations.

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