Supreme Court orders status quo on transfer of Archakas of Agama temples in Tamil Nadu

A temple trust before the top court also raised concerns about the decision to allow the appointment of 'fit persons' or executive officers to manage the affairs of such temples in the absence of elected trustees.
Madurai Meenakshi Temple
Madurai Meenakshi TempleImage for representative purpose

The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Tamil Nadu government to maintain status quo with regard to the transfer of Archakas (temple priests) of Agama temples in the State.

A bench of Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh ordered that status quo be maintained till further orders and adjourned the matter by three weeks.

"In the meantime, the status quo relating to the Archakaship in the Agamic temples in question shall be continued in the same manner until further orders are made," the Court's order stated.

The Supreme Court had on August 25, sought the response of the Tamil Nadu government in the matter.

A temple trust had filed the plea in which a grievance was also raised with regard to the terms governing the appointment of 'fit persons' or executive officers to manage the affairs of such temples in the absence of elected trustees.

The guidelines on these two aspects were laid out in a Madras High Court ruling from August last year.

The High Court had held that the appointment of Archakas to Agama temples should be governed by the Agamas and not by the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020.

That order came on a plea seeking a direction against the State and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department from making appointments of Archakas and other personnel in temples.

In its order, the High Court had also ruled that transfers of Archakas would not be permissible unless the Archaka is transferred from a temple that is governed by the same Agama (traditions or precepts and principles) as the temple to which such Archaka is transferred.

On the appointment of fit persons or executive officers to manage the affairs of temples in the absence of elected trustees, the High Court had held that such a 'fit person' can only be appointed in limited circumstances.

"It is no doubt true that the right to make appointment of the Archakas lies with the trustees, but this court cannot be oblivious to the fact that in the absence of the trustees, the affairs of the temple have to be looked after by someone. Only in the absence of trustees or for any reason given in Section 49 of the Act of 1959, a fit person is appointed to exercise the power of trustees," the High Court ruled.

This order has now been challenged before the Supreme Court.

The temple trust argued that the Archakas's transfer terms need to be modified as each temple is distinct and has its own customs and practices.

Further, an apprehension was also raised that if executive officers or fit persons are appointed, such persons may take on the role for a long period without making efforts to make appointments on the board of trustees.

Senior Advocates Guru Krishna Kumar and P Valliappan with advocates ER Sumathy, S Rajappa, V Prabhakar, Jyoti Parashar, NJ Ramchandar, R Gowrishankar, and Manjeet Kirpal represented the temple trust.

Advocates D Kumaran, Sheikh S Kalia, and Deepa S appeared for the Tamil Nadu government.

[Read order]

Srirangam Koil vs State of Tamil Nadu and ors.pdf
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