Bombay High Court
Bombay High Court
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Mumbai: The government and police must not hesitate to take action against a religious event apprehending that the same might be viewed as action against God, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court said on Wednesday, while ordering a probe against the Jagdamba Devi Temple Trust. The HC has ordered police to conduct a probe under charges of fraud, cheating and provisions of the Black Magic Act.

The probe has been ordered after the trust spent over Rs 25 lakh to construct a huge complex for installing the statues of 64 yoginis and for burying over 2 kg gold yantras after a huge ceremony. The overall loss to the trust has been calculated to be to the tune of Rs one crore, as per the records.

A bench of Justices Tanaji Nalawade and Mukund Sewlikar said, “The record shows that the authorities have no courage to take action even when a serious thing has happened. This might have happened due to general fear which may be in the minds of the authorities. The general fear may be of a different kind, like the possibility that they may invite trouble as the matter involves religious feelings and it can be viewed as an act against God.”

“In view of the provisions of the Constitution of India, this court holds that the authorities are expected to work with the secular mind in such case and they need to adhere to the ‘truth’. The authority needs to have a scientific approach in such matters to make an inquiry and take action. The authority cannot accept religious propositions that cannot be scientifically proved. If no such approach is adopted, ‘truth’ will always suffer defeat,” the bench added.

The bench was seized with a plea filed by Namdev Garad, 52, seeking a probe and FIR against the trustees of the temple. The plea claimed that the trustees turned a blind eye to the norms and went on disposing of various properties of the temple trust.

The trust claimed that burying the gold yantras was purely a religious ceremony and it even defended the construction of the additional temple complex for installing the 64 yoginis.

Having perused the laws in this regard, the judges noted that there was a procedure the trusts had to follow, for disposing of property, which envisages floating of tenders after consulting the charity commissioner.

“The act of the trustees cannot only be called irregularity. The circumstances are sufficient to make out a case of breach of trust for the present purpose. These activities apparently fall under the offences punishable under sections 420, 406 etc. of IPC. It is also cheating of the poor people who had donated the ornaments to the endowment for purposes mentioned in the scheme of the trust,” the bench noted.

In their 26-page verdict, the judges even pulled up the district judge and the deputy charity commissioner, along with the local police, for failing to act against the trust.

As far as the contentions of the trust were concerned, the judges said that the trust could have worked for the upliftment of the poor. “When these are expectations from management, these days complaints are received against many managements, that they are not properly managing the trust and they are spending the money and are disposing of the property of the trust illegally. In most of the trusts, the manner of collection of donation and offerings is not proper and that gives the opportunity to persons in control to misappropriate the property of the trust,” the order mentions.

The bench further noted that usually, people do not raise their voice against such conduct in religious issues, fearing they may hurt sentiments, giving a free hand to trustees to exploit the funds. “Due to an increase in such incidents, the time has come to teach a lesson to such trustees. Such action will prevent activities like the present activity and will also help to check superstition,” the court said.

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