The Kerala High Court on Friday ordered the immediate return of Rs 10 crores that were taken by the state government from the Guruvayur Temple Devaswom funds to the chief minister’s fund. The verdict was issued on the pleas filed against the move by many, including BJP leader N Nagesh.
The Kerala High Court deemed the payment made by the temple board to the chief minister’s fund as illegal and noted that Guruvayoorappan is the heir to all the properties related to Guruvayur Temple. The court observed that Devaswom Board, as a trustee, has a sole right to maintain the property but no right to pass it on to anyone else. This was enshrined in the Devaswom Act, the court said, adding that the Governing Body can only act within the limits of the law.
The Guruvayur Devaswom Board is one of the four Devaswom boards in Kerala that manage the affairs of the temples across the state. The Guruvayur Devaswom Board presides over 12 temples including the Sri Krishna temple in Guruvayur, 30 km from Thrissur.
“Matters such as contributions towards Disaster Relief Funds do not fall under purview or jurisdiction of the Devaswom Board,” the court order said. Slamming the Kerala state government, the high court ordered that it has no power or authority to requisition the funds managed by the Devaswom Board or direct them on how to proceed in these matters.
The order also directed the division bench of the high court to decide on how to recover the amount donated to the Chief Minister’s relief fund. The Board had given Rs 10 crores to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund during the floods and the COVID-19 period.
BJP attacks Left government in Kerala for taking funds from Hindu temples
Earlier in May 2020, a controversy was kicked up after the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala had taken the money for the Chief Minister’s Covid-19 Relief Fund from the Guruvayur Devaswom Board. The funds were handed over by Guruvayur Devaswom chairman KB Mohandas to District Collector S Shanavas, stating that the contribution to the fund was a part of the Devaswom’s social responsibility.
Moreover, Mohandas had brazened out the decision, saying that there was nothing unlawful about it. He further said that the Devaswom board had earlier donated to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund during the floods in 2018.
The transfer of money from temple reserves to the chief minister’s relief funds had touched off a massive controversy, with Kerala BJP leaders castigating the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government for appropriating the temple funds. Kerala BJP President K Surendran attacked the Kerala government for transferring the money from Hindu temples to the relief fund and said that Devaswom’s step was wrong.
This money should have been sent to temples that have been struggling to light the lamps, Surendran added. He also asked the Kerala government why the chief minister’s fund was not taking money from other religious institutions.
A similar case of temple funds being used by the state government had come up when the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department of Tamil Nadu had issued a controversial order dated April 22 asking Hindu temples of the state to transfer Rs 10 crores to the Chief Minister’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. On the similar lines, the Tamil Nadu government’s order had triggered outrage, with opposition leaders vehemently criticising the move. Finally, the Tamil Nadu took back its order after the Madras High Court found it ‘not legally tenable.