In an unprecedented development, the Bombay high court has issued notice to the Maharashtra government and Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Temple Trust to file their respective replies within four weeks. This matter was in response to PIL filed to challenge STT’s (Siddhivinayak Temple Trust) transfer of Rs 10 crore to Maharashtra Govt in the lie of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and the state’s Shiv Bhojan Scheme for subsidized food for the poor. The PIL has been posted for further hearing in the first week of October.
However, the court refused to grant any immediate relief saying that the government and the trust should be heard on this issue before releasing any order. Though the Court made it clear that the transfer of funds would be subject to the judgment of the court.
This PIL was filed by an advocate Leela Ranga, who is an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesha to whom the Siddhivinayak temple is dedicated. Ranga said that the temple trust has pledged Rs 10 crore to the Maharashtra government in last 5 months. It has sanctioned Rs 5 crore for Shiv Bhojan scheme of Maharashtra government, where a person is charged Rs 10 per plate of food. This is a pet project of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. This scheme is a part of Shiv Sena’s election manifesto. Hence it could be said that Temple’s money has been used to fulfil the promises of Shiv Sena.
Here it is important to note that the temple trust is headed by Shiv Sena leader Aadesh Bandekar who is quite close to the Thackeray Family.
The PIL mentioned that “this enactment empowered the government to appoint the Executive Officer and other members of the Management Committee. The enactment also requires the Government’s prior sanction for the utilization of Trust Funds for all except certain limited matters directly related to maintenance of the temple/its facilities and for ceremonies/rituals.” as reported by India Today.
The enactment limits the use of the Trust Fund for certain specified purposes only and prescribes the procedures to be followed. The funds collected by the temple can only be utilized for maintenance, management of the temple and to conduct rituals and ceremonies.
If there is any surplus fund with the temple trust, then it can be used for the establishment and maintenance of any educational institutions, hospitals, dispensaries, homes for destitute persons or persons physically disabled or other charitable or religious institutions, or giving financial aid to such institutions or persons. However, such routing of fund requires prior sanction from the government.
It is quite visible that the government cannot sanction the transfer of funds from the temple to itself since the government itself is the beneficiary here. This is definitely a case of misuse of power by the Government.