Bombay HC refuses immediate reliefs in PIL challenging transfer of funds from Siddhivinayak Temple Trust to Maha Govt

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The Bombay High Court Friday refused to grant immediate interim relief to a petitioner challenging transfer of funds from Siddhivinayak Ganpati Temple Trust to the Maharashtra government’s Shiv Bhojan Scheme for subsidised meals to the poor as well as to Chief Minister Relief Fund in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While admitting the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the court directed the state government and temple trust to file their affidavits in reply to the plea.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Revati Mohite-Dere was hearing a PIL by lawyer and Goregaon resident Leela P Ranga challenging the government decisions on transfer of trust’s funds.

Senior Advocate Pradeep Sancheti for the petitioner argued that transfer of Rs 5 crore each by the trust to the CM’s Relief Fund and for the Shiv Bhojan Scheme was illegal. He referred to Section 18 of the Siddhivinayak Ganpati Temple Trust (Prabhadevi) Act, 1980, which prescribes the manner in which the trust can utilise funds. He said the trust’s funds can be utilised only for maintenance, management and administration of the temple. He said the provision also allowed use of surplus funds for development of the trust properties, including guesthouses for devotees and for maintenance of educational institutions and hospitals.

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“It is shocking that the trust has donated at least 30 crores of its money to the state government in the last four to five months,” the plea said.

The petition also sought from the court to direct the state government to conduct an inquiry in the April 15 decision for transfer of Rs 5 crore and sought action against members of the management committee for taking it.

The petition further sought departmental inquiry in Government Resolutions (GR) of March 19 and June 25 pertaining to transfer of funds and said these sanctions were not as per law. The petitioner also said that in one of the GRs, the government had “initiated” the transfer instead of the trust, which was against the special law.

Moreover, the PIL also sought from the court to set aside a July 23 GR that extended the tenure of chairman of trust’s management committee by another three years, which had taken earlier decisions about funds transfers. Sancheti also sought an interim relief to stop further transfers.

He pointed out that in previous litigations against the trust, the court had appointed a retired high court judge to inquire into the affairs of the trust over alleged illegal transfers.

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After hearing submissions, the court said it was ‘prima facie’ satisfied that the petitioner has set out a case for admission of PIL.

However, the HC said “it was not inclined to grant interim relief” and refused to restrain the government from renewing the appointment of trust officials.

Moreover, the bench said it was not a stage to appoint a retired HC judge to inquire into trust’s affairs. It also refused to immediately stay the GRs and said that actions taken by GRs will be subject to the outcome of the PIL.

The High Court directed the state government and the trust to file their affidavits in reply to the PIL within four weeks and asked the petitioner to file rejoinders to the responses within a week thereafter. The court will hear the plea next in the first week of October

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