On Wednesday last week, the Supreme Court of India handed over the management of Gokarna Mahabaleshwar temple in Karnataka to an oversight committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice BN Srikrishna.
The court was hearing a petition challenging an order by Karnataka High Court which had quashed a state government order handing over the management of the Mahabaleshwar temple at Gokarna to the Ramchandrapura Math in in Hosanagara. Earlier, the Supreme Court had stayed the High Court order handing over the temple management to a committee headed by Justice Sri Krishna.
A three-judge Bench of CJI Bobde, Justice Bopanna and Justice Ramasubramanian said that the Gokarna Mahabaleshwar temple shall function under the oversight committee headed by Justice BN Srikrishna. The bench also said that this will be the modification of all interim orders passed by the apex court.
The court added that the oversight committee will function adhering to all the customs and traditions of the temple. The committee will have the Deputy Commission of the Uttara Kannada district, Superintendent of Police of the same district, Assistant commissioner of Kumta Sub Division, two eminent persons/scholars, and two Upadivantas of Gokarna Temple as members of the committee.
The Mahabaleshwar temple in Gokarna is a very ancient temple dedicated to lord Shiva, which has been mentioned in several Hindu scriptures. The dispute over the management of the temple started in 2008, when the B. S. Yediyurappa led BJP government had decided to remove the temple from govt control, and had handed over the management of the temple to Ramachandrapura Mutt.
The trustees of the temple had opposed the move, and they had filed a petition at the Karnataka High Court asking to revert the state govt order. But in 2010, the High Court had dismissed the petition and refused to transfer the temple from the mutt and appoint a administrator for the temple. The petition was filed by Balachandra Dixit, a trustee whose family had been managing the temple traditionally. The state govt while transferring the temple to the Mutt had said that the temple had seen no development as it was under the management of a single family.
However, things changed after the Congress party came to power in the state in 2013, as it tried it best to bring the temple under the govt’s control. The JD(S)-Congress had termed the handover of the temple to the Mutt by BJP govt as votebank politics and unwarranted, and wanted to revert the decision.
Immediately after coming to power, the K. Siddaramaiah govt had announced his intention to bring back two temples that were denotified by the previous govt, the Udupi Sri Krishna temple and the Gokarna Mahabaleshwar temple. The Congress had alleged that after govt shedding controls, Brahmins had taken over the temples and there were caste discrimination.
Moreover, the government wanted the temple back as it collects a huge amount from devotees. During the hearing in September 2016 of a petition by Samsthana Mahabaleshwara Trust and Balachandra Dixit against the 2008 order, the state govt’s advocate had requested the court, “the Math has funds running into crores of rupees, all of which goes to the Math. Therefore, an order may be passed to give the administration of this temple back to the government.”
In October 2016, the Siddaramaiah government proposes appointing an administrator to the temple, but it was opposed by several communities associated with the temple.
Two years later in 2018, the Karnataka High Court passed an order quashing the 2008 order of the BJP government. The court had ruled that the temple will continue to be listed among notified temples, and had said that the state govt didn’t have the power to remove the temple from the list. The court had also constituted a overseeing committee, headed by the Uttara Kannada Deputy Commissioner, to monitor the daily affairs of the Mahabaleshwar and other allied temples, and had appointed Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna as adviser to the committee.
The Ramachnadrapura Mutt had filed a petition against this high court order at the supreme court, seeking to reinstate the 2008 order of the state govt. However, the apex court has rejected this petition for now in the latest order, and instead transferred the management of the temple to an overseeing committee.
The court commented that all the aspects and arguments presented in the case require detail consideration. It further added that since a final decision is yet to be made on several appeals related to the issue, and therefore it would not be appropriate to reinstate the 2008 decision of the then state govt. The apex court said that it will be in the interest of the temple, devotees and the Mutt to hand over the temple to an independent committee.