Allocation of property because the religious endowment can be deduced from the circumstances; Express dedication or document not required: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court observed that consecration of property as a religious endowment does not require an express consecration or document and can be inferred from the circumstances.

The extinction of the privacy of a property can be inferred from the circumstances and facts recorded, including a sufficient duration, which shows the authorized use for religious or public purposes.youhe bench Judges Ajay Rastogi and Sanjiv Khanna thus observed while maintaining that Adipooram Thiruvabaranam comprising the 26 jewels, some of which are encrusted with diamonds and precious stones, belongs to the deity Sri Neelayadhakshi Amman of the Sri Kayarohanasamy and Neelayadhakshi Amman temple.

This case arose from a complaint filed by RM Sundaram, who claimed that the jewels were inherited to him as personal property being the adopted son of Muthuthandapani Chettiar. He had also sought a mandatory injunction from the Temple to allow him to “maintain the independent and exclusive possession and enjoyment of the Kudavarai” of the Temple. The temple resisted the lawsuit claiming that the plaintiff had no title to the costume jewels and that Muthuthandapani Chettiar’s custody of the keys to the Kudavarai was only an honorary liability. The temple further stated that the jewelry was given by the ancestors of Muthuthandapani Chettiar absolutely to the idol/deity and was a specific endowment attached to the temple. This action was dismissed by the Magistrate’s Court mainly on the grounds that it was not admissible under Section 109 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act 1959. The first Court of Appeal, then the High Court, upheld this judgment. The High Court also upheld the Declaratory Order passed by the Magistrate’s Court in favor of the Temple in a lawsuit brought by the Temple.

On appeal, the Apex Court bench noted that with respect to the costume jewelry endowment, there are competing findings of fact by all three courts. Referring to judgments in Deoki Nandan v. Murlidhar AIR 1957 SC 133, The Commissioner for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments, Mysore v. Sri Ratnavarma Heggade (Deceased) by his L. Rs (1977) 1 SCC 525, MR Goda Rao Sahib v State of Madras (1966) 1 SCR 643, Idol of Sri Renganathaswamy represented by his Executive Officer, Joint Commissioner v. PK Thoppulan Chettiar, Ramanuja Koodam Anandhana Trust, represented by its Managing Trustee and Others (2020) 17 SCC 96 and MJ Thulasiraman and Another v. Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Administration and Another (2019) 8 SCC 689, the court observed as follows:

“In the context of the present case and the facts reported above, it is clear that the costume jewelry was a ‘specific endowment’ for the performance of the specific service of adornment of the deity, Sri Neelayadhakshi Amman, to be carried in the Temple car and ratham in a grand procession during the Adipooram festival.Furthermore, as explained below, it was a charitable work in favor of the Temple and for the performance of a work of religious charity The involvement of the appellant’s family was limited and restricted to keeping the keys to the Kudavarai and the iron safe which were to be opened on the Adipooram festival and the costume jewelry was to be taken out for the specific purpose of adorning the deity, Sri Neelayadhakshi Amman….

Therefore, in view of the judgments cited above and the aforementioned legislative provisions, it must be noted that the appellant’s argument that there was no endowment or specific endowment must fail and has no foundation. Dedication of Costume Jewelry does not require an express dedication or document, and may be inferred from the circumstances, in particular Respondent/Temple’s uninterrupted and prolonged possession of Costume Jewelry. The privacy of jewelry had long since died out and the appellant has no reason to claim that he inherited the tailor’s jewelry from his adoptive parents. The endowment is clearly public in nature and intended for the performance of religious ceremonies. As confirmed by three courts, with which we agree, the costume jewelry has been dedicated for a specific purpose and can only be used while performing the religious ceremony during the Adipooram festival.”

The bench also rejected the contentions raised by the appellant on the issue of “Res Judicata” against the suit brought by the Temple seeking the declaration. Dismissing the appeal, the court also passed an edict prohibiting the appellant from interfering in any way with the right of the temple authorities to remove the costume jewelry from the Kudavarai whenever the occasion requires. . In other words, the caller would cooperate with the request(s) of the general manager and trustees of the respondent/temple to open the gates of Kudavarai and remove the costume jewelry from the iron safe whenever as necessary, ordered the Court.

Case details

RM Sundaram @ Meenakshisundaram vs. Sri Kayarohanasamy and Neelayadhakshi Amman Temple | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 612 | CA 3964-3965 FROM 2009 | July 11, 2022 | Judges Ajay Rastogi and Sanjiv Khanna

Religious endowment – The disposal of a property as a religious endowment does not require an express dedication or document and can be inferred from the circumstances – The extinction of the private character of a property can be inferred from the circumstances and facts recorded, including a sufficient duration, which indicates authorized user for religious or public purposes. (Paragraphs 20-25)

Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; Section 11 – Authority of res judicata – When the lawsuit has been dismissed for technical reasons, what decision is not a decision on the merits of the dispute which would have the authority of res judicata on the merits of the case. (Paragraph 32)

Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; Section 11 – Authority of res judicata – For res judicata to apply, the issue directly and substantially at issue in the subsequent action must be the same as that which was directly and substantially at issue in the preceding action. In addition, the action should have been judged on the merits and the decision should have been final – When the previous action is dismissed by the court of first instance for lack of jurisdiction, or for failure to appear by the plaintiff, or for failure to – joinder or error in joinder of the parties or multiplicity of parties, either on the grounds that the action was badly mounted, or on the grounds of a technical error, or for failure to produce a report on the part of the applicant or a letter of administration or deed of succession where the same is required by law to entitle the plaintiff to judgment, or for failure to furnish security for costs, or for reason of incorrect valuation , or for failure to pay additional court costs on a claim that has been understated, or for lack of cause of action, or on the grounds that it is premature and the dismissal is upheld on appeal (if applicable), the decision, not being on the merits, would not have fo res judicata in a subsequent action. The reason is that the first case is not decided on the merits – The conditions which must be met to plead res judicata are laid down – Referred to Sheodan Singh v. Daryao Kunwar (SMT) AIR 1966 SC 1332. (Para 30-31)

Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; Section 11 – Authority of res judicata – To succeed and establish a motion for res judicata, the party taking the said motion must add to the file a copy of the pleadings and judgments rendered, including the judgment of appeal that has become final. (Paragraph 32)

Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; Ordinance II Rule 2 – Constructive Res Judicata – The party invoking and raising the exception of res judicata / Order II Rule 2 of the Code must enter into evidence the conclusions of the preceding action and establish the identity of the cause of the actions, which cannot be established in the absence of a record of the judgment and decree which is alleged to operate as estoppel – Referred to Gurbux Singh v. Bhooralal AIR 1964 SC 1810. (Paragraph 33)

Pleadings – A decree or direction beyond what has been requested cannot be granted – The limits of a court to grant remedies beyond the prayer and pleadings of the parties discussed – Referred to Bachhaj Nahar v. Nilima Mandal (2008) 17 SCC 491. (Paragraph 36)

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