1. An interesting question of law is raised in this writ petition. It is whether the term of 'non-hereditary trustee' appointed by the Deputy Commissioner under Sec. 15 of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious institutions and Endowments Act, 1966 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act') is to be reckoned from the date of their appointment or from the date when they take the oath of office and secrecy.
2. The petitioners along with two others were appointed as 'non-hereditary trustees' of Sri Udayakaleswaraswami, Venugopala and Lakshminarasimhaswamy temples of Gondavaram Village in Kovur Taluk, Nellore District by the Deputy Commissioner Endowments Department, Kurnool, by his proceedings dated 20th Sept. 1974 for a period of three years from the date of his order. Under the same proceedings. the Deputy Commissioner also directed the trustees to assemble in the office of the Executive Officer of the temple on 4th Oct. 1914 to take oath of office and secrecy before they enter upon their office and to elect one amongst themselves as Chairman of the Trust Board. The Inspector. Endowments Department, Kovur was authorised to conduct that meeting. Meanwhile one Ch. Ramaiah, questioning the appointment of the trustees, filed a revision petition before the Commr, Endownments Dept, and obtained interim stay of the orders of the Deputy Commissioner on 3rd Oct, 1974 Therefore, the trustees could not assemble on 4th October. 1974 take the oath and also elect the Chairman of the Trust Board. The petitioners filed a petition before the Commissioner to vacate the interim stay, but, since no orders were passed for more than one year, they filed a Writ Petition in this Court, and a direction was issued to the Commissioner so dispose of the revision petition. The Commissioner dismissed the revision on 9th Feb., 1976. Thereafter, the Assistant Commissioner called for a meeting of the Trust Board and administered the oath to them only in March, 1976 and they are functioning as trustees since then. While so the Commissioner called for applications to constitute a fresh Trust Board to the temples from 19th September, that is, after counting the three years period of their term from the date of their appointment 20th September, 1994.
3. It is contended on behalf of the petitioners that a trustee cannot enter upon his office until the oath is administered to him and, therefore, the term of three years has to be reckoned only from the date when the oath was administreed to him.
4. In order to appreciate this contention, it is necessary to refer to Ss. 15 and 16 of the Act, The petitioners are appointed as trustees by the Deputy Commissioner under S. 15 (2) of the Act, which provides that the Deputy Commissioner may constitute a Board of Trustees consisting of not less than five and not more than seven persons appointed by him Sub-sec. (5) of Sec 15 provides that every trustee appointed under the Act shall hold office for term of three gears unless in the meanwhile he is removed, dismissed, or has resigned or otherwise ceases to be a trustee. Section 16 (2) provides, that before a trustee enters upon his office, the Commissioner or any other person authorised by him in this behalf, shall administer to the trustee the oath of office and secrecy according to the forms prescribed for the purpose.
5. A reading of these provisions shows that the Assistant Commissioner constitutes the Board of Trustees. Every trustee so appointed by him holds office for a period of three years, a trustee enters upon his office, Commissioner or any other person authorised by him, shall administer to the trustee the oath of office and Therefore, if a trustee does not take the oath he cannot enter upon his office. The oath cannot be taken by himself. but it has to be administered to him by the Commissioner or some person authorised by him. In these circumstances it has to be held that the term of three years has to be recokned only from the date when the oath is administered to a trustee, but not when he is appointed . The learned Government Pleader relying upon the order of the Deputy Commissioner dated 20th Sept., 1974 which says that the petitioners were appointed for a period of three years from the date of his order, has submitted that their term should be reckoned only from the date of the order, that is, 20th Sept., 1974. The trustees are appointed under the Act, according to the procedure prescribed thereunder and, therefore, the question should be decided only in terms of the Act. Consequently. I am of the opinion that the term of the trustees must be reckoned only from the date when the oath of office and secrecy was administered to them. If so, the petitioners also were administered the oath only in March 1976 are entitled to remain in office till March, 1979. Therefore, the notice issued by the Commissioner dated 6th Sept., 1977 to the Executive Officer of the temples informing him that the term of the Board of Trustees had expired on 19th Sept., 1974, and to issue a notification calling for applications for appointment of fresh trustees is set aside. The Commissioner is at Liberty to make fresh appointments for the Trust Board, alter the period of three years elapses from the date when the petitioners were administered the oath of office. Accordingly the Writ Petition is allowed, but in the circumstances of the case, without costs, Advocate's fee Rs. 100/-.
6. Petition allowed.