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Andhra Pradesh High Court dismisses PIL against AP charitable and Hindu religious Institutions and Endowments (Amendment) Act, 2021

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The Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a direction to set-aside the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments (Amendment) Act, 2021,as violative of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.

The Petition has been filed by one Sreenivasulu Palepu who was aggrieved by the excessive action of the Respondents in amending The Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987 , through the Amendment Act, 2021, as violative of Articles 14, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Act.

It is pleaded that, the rights enshrined in Right to Freedom of Religion’ head under Part III of the Constitution of India, more particularly, that of religious denominations in Article 26 of the Constitution of India, cannot be interfered with by the State, except in the interest of public order. The Andhra Pradesh Legislature though enacted the Act, and its Preamble as “An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to the administration and governance of Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments in the State of Andhra Pradesh” but the said Act has been amended multiple times, at the instance of successive governments. Provisions relating to the Andhra Pradesh Dharmika Parishad, were incorporated in the Act, vide amendment through Act 33 of 2007 in pursuance of the Judgment of the Apex Court in Sri Sri Sri Lakshmana Yatendrulu and Others Vs. State of A.P and Another .

This resulted in addition of Sections 10-A and 152 to the Act. In pursuance of Section 152(3) of the Act, the Revenue (Endowments) Department, issued Rules under which Andhra Pradesh Dharmika Parishad shall be governed under notification dt.16.09.2008. The High Court recognized the significance of Dharmika Parishad in one of its judgment through which the High Court designated the onus on Dharmika Parishad to settle the continuous disputes between the successors of the Mutt. In view of the judgment of the Hon’ble High Court in N.Govinda Swamy Vs. State of A.P. [Writ Appeal No.535 of 2021], recent amendments to the Act, were made in December, 2021, purportedly for administration convenience, by the A.P. State Legislation.

The same is as under:-

“2. On the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987, in Section 152, in Sub Section (1), the following proviso shall be inserted, namely:-

“Provided that where the Dharmika Parishad could not be constituted as prescribed above, the official members at Item Nos.(i) (iv) shall discharge the functions of the Dharmika Parishad.”

While considering the PIL , the Division Bench of Justice C. Praveen Kumar and Justice Duppala Venkata Ramana noted that on 13.08.2022, the Government of Andhra Pradesh issued G.O.Ms. No. 571, constituting Andhra Pradesh Dharmika Parishad with 21 Members, out of which, the persons whose names were shown at Serial No.1 to 4 are Official Members, while others are Non-Official Members, whose term shall be for a period of three years from the date of taking oath of Office. This Government Order came to be issued after the matter was heard and reserved. Hence, it was listed again and after hearing the Petitioner counsel and respondent, it was reserved.

The grievance of the Petitioner is that, though G.O.Ms. No.571, dated 13.08.2022, came to be issued in exercise of powers conferred under sub-section (1) of Section 152 of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987, constituting Andhra Pradesh Dharmika Parishad with 21 Members, but the amendment to the Act vide Act No. 32 of 2021 continues to be in force. In other words, his grievance appears to be that, even after the expiry of the term of 21 Members, appointed under sub-Section (1) of Section 152, the provisions of the Act will come into force and the four [04] persons mentioned in the proviso to Section 152 will discharge the function of Dharmika Parishad, which according to the Petitioner, cannot be permitted. It is his plea that the Executive Instructions as well as the amendment to the Act, cannot run parallel to each other.

Government Pleader for Endowments appeared for the Respondents opposed the same contending that the question of these official four [04] persons continuing parallel to persons appointed vide G.O.Ms. No. 571, dated 13.08.2022, is incorrect. Her case is that, these four [04] persons mentioned in proviso (1) to Section 152 namely,

(i) Minister for Endowments as “the Chairman”;

(ii) The Secretary;

(iii) The Commissioner of Endowments as “Member Secretary”; and

(iv) Executive Officer, Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams, form part of 21 body and, as such, after the expiry of their term, a fresh Government Order could be issued appointing another 21 Members.

“In other words, her arguments appears to be that, anticipating a contingency that the Government may continue with first four persons again as Dharmika Parishad Members, the Petitioner herein is under a impression that both these proceedings run parallel to each other.”

On a perusal of the amendment to the Act the Bench noted that the proviso to Section 152 came to be inserted stating that, “where the Dharmika Parishad could not be constituted as per Section 152(1), the official members, at Serial Nos. (i) to (iv) shall discharge the functions of the Dharmika Parishad”, meaning thereby that, for functioning of “Dharmika Parishad”, as prescribed under Section 152(1), these four persons will function as Members of Dharmika Parishad till a full body is appointed. This would be a stop gap arrangement and cannot be eternal.

“In view of the said proviso, G.O.Ms.No. 571, dated 13.08.2022, came to be issued invoking the power under subsection (1) of Section 152 of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987, constituting a Committee consisting of 21 Members. The Committee of 21 Members include the four [04] Members referred to in sub-section (1) of Section 152. The term of non-official members would be for three [03] years and after the expiry of their term and till a new Committee is continued, these four [04] members will take care of Dharmika Parishad. As said earlier, the said arrangement is only a temporary one done with a view to protect the interest of the Mutt after the expiry of the terms of non-official members”, observed the Bench.

Therefore the Court held that it cannot be said that, there are two parallel bodies, one under the Act and another under the Executive Instructions, running parallel to each other.

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