The Supreme Court on Monday asked as to why should government officials manage religious places and temples in the country while taking note of the fact that several devotees visiting the Jagannath temple in Puri were being harassed.
A bench of Justices S A Bobde and S A Nazeer observed this while hearing a plea which has highlighted difficulties faced by the devotees at Jagannath temple and their alleged harassment and exploitation by the 'sevaks' (staff).
"It is a matter of perspective. I do not know why government officials should manage temples?," Justice Bobde observed during the hearing. "In Tamil Nadu, there is theft of idols. These idols, apart from the religious sentiments, are priceless," the bench said.
Attorney General K K Venugopal told the apex court that Kerala's Sabarimala temple was being run by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) while board appointed by governments were managing several other temples in the country.
"How far the government, in a secular state, can control or manage a temple," Venugopal said.
At the outset, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, assisting the apex court as an amicus curiae in the case, said he has already filed the detailed report after his visit to the shrine.
To this, the bench observed, "People (visiting the temple) are harassed due to several reasons. Priests restrict them. Lot of them do not have voice. They are poor and uneducated."
The counsel appearing for the petitioner told the bench that Jagannath temple administration should apprise the court as to what steps they have taken pursuant to the report filed by the Puri's District Judge in the matter.
The bench said the matter would be heard next month.
During the hearing, one of the lawyers, who has filed an intervention application in the matter, said the petition was not maintainable.
When the counsel raised his pitch, Justice Bobde said, "It is enough. You are behaving in the most undignified manner in the court. We do not want to be shouted out. We do not want somebody to speak out of turn. You will not use the tone in which you are addressing the court."
The amicus had earlier told the court that one of the major issues at the temple was lack of proper crowd management and absence of queue system for devotees.
However, Odisha's counsel had said it was not easy to have a 'typical queue system' for the devotees at the shrine, as its architecture was different. Puri's District Judge had earlier given a report to the apex court which had raised the issue of alleged harassment of devotees by the 'sevaks' (staffs) of the temple.
In July last year, the top court had directed the Jagannath temple management to consider allowing every visitor, irrespective of faith, to offer prayers to the deity.
However, it had said that it would be subject to regulatory measures regarding dress code and giving an appropriate declaration.
It had directed the Centre to constitute a committee to look into the issues raised by the district judge of Puri regarding alleged exploitation of devotees, abolishment of hereditary 'sevaks' and appointment of 'sevaks' in the temple.