Mumbai News: HC Orders To Lodge FIR In Alleged Misappropriation Of Donations In Tuljabhawani Temple

Mumbai News: HC Orders To Lodge FIR In Alleged Misappropriation Of Donations In Tuljabhawani Temple

Rs 8.46 crore worth of cash, gold and other valuables were misappropriated by officials by auctioning donation boxes of the temple.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Saturday, May 11, 2024, 12:42 AM IST
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Bombay High Court | PTI

The Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court has directed registration of an FIR in the case of alleged embezzlement of money and other valuables donated to the Tuljabhawani temple in Tuljapur, between the period 1991 and 2009. The probe has to be conducted by the officer of the rank of superintendent of the state crime investigation department (CID).

A bench of Justices Mangesh Patil and Shailesh Brahme passed the order based on two inquiry reports, which concluded that Rs8.46 crore worth of cash, gold and other valuables were misappropriated by officials by auctioning donation boxes of the temple during the said period.

The court also took adverse note of the argument by the state government opposing the probe for the reason that since a long time had lapsed, registration of an FIR may be a futile attempt.

The bench said that the issues should not be prejudged. “We cannot countenance the stand being taken by the state government prejudging the issue. If at all the crime is registered and investigated and if the investigating machinery/officer is unable to collect the material he will not be in a position to substantiate the allegations and may not even file a charge sheet. However, the action cannot be preempted,” the bench said.

It said since the matter pertains to “misappropriation and criminal breach of trust resorting to forgery, it being a cognisable offence punishable under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, the criminal law must be set in motion and there has to be a threadbare investigation into the allegations”.

HC Disposes PIL On Tuljabhawani Temple Trust Fraud, Calls For FIR Registration

The court disposed of a public interest litigation filed by a charitable trust, Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, highlighting the alleged fraud and misappropriation, which took place in the management of the Tuljabhawani Temple Trust, which was registered with the Assistant Charity Commissioner in the year 1962. There were no bye-laws or rules and regulations for its management. The plea sought the registration of an FIR.

In August 1984, the trustees resolved to undertake the auction of the donation box, which was reversed in September 1991 stating that it was not in the temple trust’s interest. However, without giving any reason, the practice of auction was restarted between 1991 and 2009. It was during this period that there was rampant embezzlement in respect of the offerings to the deity. Despite huge offerings of gold and silver ornaments through the donation box, only a few were accounted for, the court noted.

In 2009, then Collector Osmanabad (Dharashiv) realised that such embezzlement was taking place and a similar conclusion was drawn by the office of the Joint Charity Commissioner. An inquiry was initiated by the state government and two reports concluded that there was misappropriation and registration of an offence under the Indian Penal Code and the Maharashtra Public Trust Act.

HC Directs FIR Registration Despite State's Rejection Of Inquiry In Irregularities Case

However, the home department, on March 22, 2018, ordered a re-inquiry. On June 15, 2022, the home department sent a communication to the then Director General of Police (DGP) stating that “though there were irregularities and negligence by the then trustees, those were the then Collectors, Sub Divisional Officers and Tahsildars who could not be held criminally liable and that period from 1991 to 2009 was pretty old”. Hence, it communicated not to conduct any inquiry.

Hence, the PIL was filed. The state filed an affidavit stating that in the earlier enquiries, notional calculations were made and there was no concrete material, hence prosecution could not stand in such a case. It claimed it was “not trying to protect anybody”. Dismissing the state’s arguments, the HC asked to register an FIR.

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