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Kashi Vishwanath VIP darshan: Allahabad High Court dismisses petition against scheme

In this petition, the Petitioner claims himself a devotee of Lord Shiva and a person who has been visiting Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

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The Allahabad High Court has dismissed a petition against VIP darshan under the Sugam Darshan Scheme at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

The Division Bench of Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Sameer Jain passed this order while hearing a PIL filed by Gajendra Singh Yadav. In this petition, the petitioner, who claimed to be a devotee of Lord Shiva and a person who has been visiting Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple, said the decision of the Board of Trustees to have a system of Sugam Darshan which, according to the petitioner, violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14, 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.

It is the case of the petitioner that Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust which is constituted under the provisions of UP Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983 has certain duties cast upon it by Section 14 of the 1983 Act. One such duty is to provide facilities for the proper performance of worship by the pilgrims and worshippers.

It is the case of the petitioner that by providing a special facility of Sugam Darshan on payment of certain charges, in effect, the Board of Trustees has excluded a common man from exercising his right of worship and perform necessary religious practices connected therewith.

The Counsel for the petitioner has cited a decision of the Supreme Court in Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi and others vs. State of U.P. and others, (1997) 4 SCC 606.

The Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the right to enter the temple, touch the Linga of Lord Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple and personally perform pooja is an essential religious practice which needs to be protected and by creating a special facility of Sugam Darshan, the performance of established religious practice mentioned above would be hampered and therefore the facility of Sugam Darshan violates the fundamental rights of a citizen of India and a believer in Lord Shiva.

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Manish Goyal, who appears for the State, and Vineet Sankalp, who appears for the Board of Trustees, have invited the court attention to Section 15 of the 1983 Act wherein it is provided that Board shall exercise all such powers, as are necessary for or incidental to the performance of its duties and functions under the Act and in particular shall have power to fix fees for the performance of any worship, service, ritual, ceremony or religious observance in the Temple.

Goyal submitted that the validity of the 1983 Act has been upheld by the Apex Court in Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi and others vs. State of UP and therefore, the power to fix fees for the performance of any worship, service, rituals, ceremony or religious observance in the Temple inheres in the Board of Trustees.

The facility of Sugam Darshan has been provided not with a view to exclude common worshippers or to prevent them from performing essential religious practices but with a view to enable certain class of persons who by virtue of their physical disabilities or for other reasons are not in a position to stand in a queue to have Darshan. To enable such a class of persons to exercise their right of worship, this facility has been carved out, which is not to exclude the other class of devotees of Lord Shiva.

Goyal further submitted that such a facility is found in all such temples where devotees flock in large numbers including the temples of Lord Balaji and Maa Vaishnav Devi.

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In response to the above submission, the counsel for the petitioner has invited the court attention to certain photographs annexed with the petition to demonstrate that certain persons are being offered special treatment.

To this, Goyal also submitted that if there is infraction of the discipline at an individual level, that may call for a specific action against any such infraction but that cannot be taken as a ground to question the policy as a whole.

“Having considered the rival submissions and having noticed the statutory provisions, we are of the view that once the Board of Trustees are vested with the power to fix fees for the performance of any worship, service, rituals, ceremony or religious observance in the temple and in exercise of such power, they take a decision to provide a facility of Sugam Darshan for those who, on account of their disability, be it physical or otherwise, cannot wait in a queue and, while taking such decision, they do not exclude the common class from exercising their right of worship or perform Puja as per religious practices, in our view, the decision of the Board of Trustees does not fall within the ambit of judicial review,” the court observed while dismissing the petition.

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