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A PIL in Kerala High Court challenging the Guruvayoor Devaswom's recent decision to extend a Rs 5 crores donation to the Chief Minister's Disaster Relief Fund (CMDRF) amid the COVID-19 pandemic was on Friday directed to be clubbed with allied case pending before a larger Bench. The larger question involves whether the temple donations can be diverted for non-religious purposes.
The PIL that came up on Friday before the Division Bench of Justices Shaji P Chaly and MR Anitha had challenged the recent COVID-19 aid contribution to the CMDRF as violative of Sections 11, 12 and 27 of the Guruvayoor Devaswom Act, 1978.
The Court, however, was appraised that a related case is already pending consideration by a larger Bench after a conflict was noticed between two decisions on the issue.
In the Kerala High Court's ruling in CK Rajan v. State, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in Guruvayoor Devaswom Managing Committee v. Rajan, a Rs 5 lakh donation made to the CMDRF was held to be unauthorised.
In July 2019, however, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court upheld that validity of a Rs 5 crore donation made by the Managing Committee of the Devasom to the CMDRF during the 2019 floods.
In the 2019 case, the Court held that the Managing Committee of the Devaswom may, after making adequate provision for the purposes referred under Section 21 of the 1978 Act, incur expenditure out of the funds available for all or any of the purposes mentioned under Section 27 of the Act.
It was opined that this would not be understood to carry an interdiction so as to invalidate the donation to the CMDRF, in the circumstances that led to making the donation in question.
Upon noticing an apparent conflict between these two case rulings, a Division Bench referred the issue for consideration by a larger Bench of the High Court in September 2019, while doubting the correctness of the CK Rajan ruling.
In view of this, the challenge made to the Devasom Board's contribution to the CMDRF amid the present COVID-19 pandemic has also been posted to be considered by the larger Bench.
In the meanwhile, the standing counsel for the Guruvayoor Devaswom on Friday clarified that there is no intention to donate any further amount to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund for the time being.
Recording the submission and while directing that the matter be placed before the Chief Justice for appropriate orders, the Bench added, "Needless to say, the donation given will be subject to the result of these writ petitions."