November 21, 2019: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Kerala government to draft a law exclusively covering the administration of the Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa Swami Temple by the third week of January.
A three-judge Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, expressed dissatisfaction when the State chose to produce a draft Bill — The Travancore-Cochin Religious Institutions (Amendment) Bill of 2019 — containing certain proposed amendments to the Travancore-Cochin Religious Institutions Act of 1950.
The Bench reminded the Kerala government about its assurance on August 27 that “the State is considering enacting a separate legislation with regard to the administration of the Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa Swami Temple.”
The Bench reminded the Kerala government about its assurance on August 27 that “the State is considering enacting a separate legislation with regard to the administration of the Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa Swami Temple.” Now, instead of the new law, the State had turned up in court with some amendments in the old Act.
Imperative, says judge
Justice Ramana pointed out to senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, for Kerala, that a temple which receives lakhs of pilgrims should be governed by a separate Act.
The court said an exclusive law was imperative for the welfare of pilgrims and effective management of the famed temple.
Even the practicality of one of the amendments proposed through the draft Bill came under the court’s scanner. It proposed one-third reservation for women in the temple advisory committees. Advocate G. Prakash, Kerala panel counsel in the apex court, later described it under Section 31A of the 1950 Act as part of the State’s ‘liberal’ push.
But the Bench questioned Mr. Gupta about the prospect of actively involving women even as the question of admission of women aged between 10 and 50 years into the temple was itself sub judice in the supreme court.
The Bench was referring to the recent majority verdict of a five-judge Constitution Bench in the Sabarimala review case.Side-stepping a decision on whether the apex court’s September 2019 decision to revoke the ban on women’s entry was right or wrong, the five-judge Bench in November 14 referred the larger question of the tug-of-war between religious restrictions versus women’s equal right to worship in public religious places to a seven-judge Bench for an "authoritativepronouncement."
The Constitution Bench had further asked the Seven-judge Bench to consider whether the Kerala Hindu Places of Public worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 would govern the Sabarimala temple. The ban on menstruating women was imposed under rule 3(b) pf the 1965 rules.