The Supreme Court on Monday asked why the government should manage temples and other religious places in the country. A bench comprising Justice SA Bobde and Justice Abdul Nazeer made the remark while hearing a plea on difficulties faced by devotees at Jagannath temple in Odisha, and their alleged harassment by temple staff, PTI reported.
“It is a matter of perspective,” Bobde said. “I do not know why government officials should manage temples? In Tamil Nadu, there is theft of idols. These idols, apart from the religious sentiments, are priceless.”
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the bench that the Sabarimala temple in Kerala is run by the Travancore Dewaswom Board, while government-appointed boards manage many other shrines in the country. “How far can the government, in a secular state, control or manage a temple?” Venugopal asked.
The court observed that people who visit the Jagannath Puri shrine are harassed by priests who impose restrictions on them. “Lot of them do not have a voice,” the bench said. “They are poor and uneducated.”
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who is assisting the court in the matter as an amicus curiae, said two legislations have been passed regarding the administration of the Jagannath shrine, and encouraged the court to examine the laws before passing an order, The Times of India reported. He said the mismanagement of the temple is the result of non-implementation of these laws.
The bench said the matter will be heard again next month.
Five policemen were suspended for dereliction of duty after protests against a queue system for visiting pilgrims at the temple last October turned violent. Eighteen people were also arrested in connection with the incident. Later that month, the Supreme Court ordered the police to not enter the temple with weapons and shoes.