The Supreme Court today appointed a curator to look after the wealth at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The treasure has been estimated at Rs 90,000 crore and there is a raging debate on what is to be done with all this wealth. Should it remain in the temple or be put to good use is the question.
The law in such cases is very interesting. Going strictly by the law and the various judgments of the Supreme Court it becomes clear that no one except the diety has a right over this wealth.
A diety in any temple in India as per the law is considered to be a juristic person. A juristic or a legal person is entitled to the wealth that has been given and can also fight a legal battle in case of any problem.
In the instant case all the wealth that has been found has been given to the diety and hence the diety usurps the ownership right over it, thus making it clear that no one else can use this wealth other than the diety.
Advocate General of Karnataka, Ashok Harnahalli explains. All this wealth belongs to the diety since it has been given in the name of the idol. There is a point being made that this wealth should be used for public purpose. However as per the law this is not possible. If ornaments and other treasure has been given to the temple then it is in the name of the diety and hence only the idol has the right over it. The other question is what happens if cash has been given. Here too the money can be used only for the development of the temple and not for any other use. In case the temple administration does decide to realize all these assets into cash, then again the money can be used only for the development of the temple in which the diety is placed.
As per the law and what has been laid by the Supreme Court of India, a diety is a juristic person. It has a legal jurisdiction and is capable of ownership of property. If anyone stakes a claim on this wealth which rightfully belongs to the diety, then it can fight a legal battle seeking its rights. However a diety is always represented by a guardian who would ideally be a member of the trust or the temple.
Take the famous Ayodhya verdict which was pronounced a year back. The legal battle was fought between two parites and one of the litigants was Ram Lalla. In any litigation concerning a temple, it is always the diety which is one of the litigants. The title deed of any temple in India is in the name of the diety and hence it becomes party to the suit.
The Supreme Court of India has clearly stated that a diety is a juristic person. It says that they are beings both real and imaginary to whom the law attributes a personality by way of fiction when there is none in fact. The Supreme Court further adds that a legal person or a juristic person is any entity other than human beings to which the law attributes a personality. The words ‘juristic person’ connote the recognition of an entity to be a person in law which otherwise it is not. In other words, it is not a natural person but an artificially created person which is to be recognised in law as such.
The Supreme Court also added that a juristic person is a holder of rights and duties and can own and dispose of property, can receive gifts, and it can sue and be sued in its name. Idols have been recognised to be juristic persons in Hindu law, which personifies the deity as a legal person. A Hindu idol is recognised by courts as a juristic entity having a judicial status, and its interests are attended to by a person who is in charge of the deity and who under law is its guardian or manager.
When this being the legal position it becomes clear that all talk of using the wealth at the Kerala temple for any other purpose other than the benefit of the temple is not a possibility. Hence if the state government wants to use this wealth for public purpose as is being sought by a few, it would need to go before the Supreme Court and challenge the existing set of laws regarding the ownership rights of a diety.