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Elayalwar Reddiar and ors. Vs. Namberumal Chettiar - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectTrusts and Societies
CourtChennai
Decided On
Reported in(1900)10MLJ86
AppellantElayalwar Reddiar and ors.
RespondentNamberumal Chettiar
Cases ReferredSayed Amin Sahib v. Ibrahim Sahib
Excerpt:
..... having regard to the fact that in the case of public religious institutions like the present how funds voluntarily given have often contributed and do still contribute not only to make the institution richer but also to promote the interest of public worship, it must be regarded as part of the trustees's proper functions to utilize this sort of income for the purposes of the institution whenever it is available. therefore the decisions cited for the defend ant dealing with the withholding of mere honors and courtesies have no application to cases like this--still less, in point are those cases which were cited and which show that courts cannot be called upon to decide questions of ritual and worship unconnected with civil rights, since it is perfectly competent to the courts to..........for the determination of civil rights. nor as contended for the defendant does the fact that the present suit is brought under the special provisions of section 14 of the religious endowments act affect the point. there is absolutely no warrant for construing the clause any misfeasance, breach, of trust or neglect of duty in respect of the trusts vested in or confided to in that section otherwise than in its ordinary sense. the comprehensive language employed by the legislature unquestionably covers every misfeasance, breach of trust or neglect of duty with reference to the trust; and the clause must be held to include the case put forward by the plaintiffs here. as to the decisions cited on behalf of the defendant, none of them seems to have any real bearing on the present question......
Judgment:

Subramania Aiyar, J.

1. The suit, out of which this appeal arises, was Drought, under Section 14 of the Religious Endowments Act (XX of 1863) by certain persons, interested in the shrine of Vedanta Desika or Vedanta Charlu, attached to the Vishnu Temple at Sriperambudur, against the defendant who is the trustee of the shrine. So far as this appeal goes, the plaintiffs case appears in substance to be that the defendant, from the time he became trustee in 1892, has improperly and completely stopped the celebration of certain periodical festivals which ought to have been celebrated according to the usage of the institution, and the plaintiffs seek to compel the defendant to carry out the trust in regard to the present matter duly. The defendant raised various contentions, and several issues were framed with regard to the averments of the parties.

2. But the second issue, which was whether the suit was cognizable by a Civil Court was alone dealt with and the suit, in so far as we are here concerned, dismissed on the ground that it was not cognizable by the Courts.

3. This decision appears to rest entirely upon a statement made on behalf of the plaintiffs in the course of the argument 'that there are no special funds constituting an endowment of the deity Vedanta Charlu, and the only sufficient source for the professional and other worship which is sought to be carried out, would be derived from voluntary contributions.' (Paragraph 9 of the Judgment.) Now, the words 'special' and 'sufficient' which occur in the passage just quoted, would seem to imply that the learned District Judge did not, as suggested before us on behalf of the defendant, take the plaintiff to have admitted that the shrine in question possessed no endowments whatsoever. It was, moreover, pointed out, on behalf of the plaintiffs, that if the learned District Judge is to be supposed to have proceeded on the footing that such an admission was made by the plaintiffs, the Judge should be held to have been in error, inasmuch as the plaintiff's contention has all along been that the shrine does possess some endowments, it being their case that part of the tastik money, paid by the Government in connection with the Vishnu temple, is applicable by the trustee towards the festivals in question, and further that the income derived from a permanent landed endowment under the management of some of the plaintiffs, is similarly applicable.

4. The averments in paragraph 6 of the plaint, and the fact that the third and the fourth issues which relate to the question of funds were framed, render it improbable that the plaintiffs admitted that no endowment whatever existed. The plaintiffs must have an opportunity to prove whether any endowments exist, and whether with the income thereof the festivals used to be celebrated before the defendant became trustee, even if it were held that the absence of endowments would have by itself justified the defendant stopping the festivals though till then they had been carried on with voluntary contributions. Suppose, however, that no endowments exist and that it had not been the practice to celebrate the festivals before 1892, but that since then voluntary, contributions were offered for the festivals or any other act of public worship not inconsistent with the usage of the institution, may not the plaintiffs even then contend that the defendant acted in contravention of his duty as trustee, if it be true that without sufficient grounds he refused to celebrate the festivals though the requisite funds were forthcoming from voluntary contribution. No doubt if under the law, a temple trustee may accept or reject voluntary contributions according to his mere whim and fancy, then no suit would lie in respect of the non-celebration of festivals or ceremonies which depended wholly or even substantially upon his accepting the contributions. Having regard to the fact that in the case of public religious institutions like the present how funds voluntarily given have often contributed and do still contribute not only to make the institution richer but also to promote the interest of public worship, it must be regarded as part of the trustees's proper functions to utilize this sort of income for the purposes of the institution whenever it is available. It is thetrustee's duty to accept the money and apply it for the specified purpose unless there art proper grounds for rejecting the offer. No doubt the trustee has some discretion in the matter. If in the exercise of that discretion he acts (borrowing the words employed by Muthusami Iyer, J., with reference to an analogous matter in Civil Suit No. 213 of 1879 cited on both the sides) with an absence of indirect motive, with honesty of intention and a fair consideration of the subject, no misconduct can be imputed to the trustee so acting. But if, on the contrary, the trustee from corrupt or improper motives refuses to allow voluntary contributions offered for purposes not inconsistent with the principle of rule 5 or usage 5 of the institution to be applied for these purposes, in such a case surely persons interested in the institution must be held entitled to proceed against the trustee. And this view of the law is implied by Muthusami Iyer, J., in the case to which allusion has already been made and on which the learned Vakil for the defendant laid much stress. It would follow from the above that the defendant acted contrary to his duty, should it be proved that though the funds required to carry on the festivals were forthcoming during the period in question, yet he refused to celebrate them without any adequate ground for doing so. A fortiori, would he be guilty had it been usual to celebrate them with the aid of voluntary contributions. And of course the Courts are bound to restrain a trustee from injuring the interest's of the institution under his charge by corruptly, arbitrarily or wantonly departing from the ordinary course of procedure in regard to essential or important matters connected with the institution. That such a departure on the part of a trustee amounts to a breach of legal duty incumbent on him is the ground on which the Court exercises jurisdiction over him. Therefore the decisions cited for the defend ant dealing with the withholding of mere honors and courtesies have no application to cases like this--still less, in point are those cases which were cited and which show that Courts cannot be called upon to decide questions of ritual and worship unconnected with civil rights, since it is perfectly competent to the Courts to adjudicate upon such questions also when the adjudication is necessary for the determination of civil rights. Nor as contended for the defendant does the fact that the present suit is brought under the special provisions of Section 14 of the Religious Endowments Act affect the point. There is absolutely no warrant for construing the clause any misfeasance, breach, of trust or neglect of duty in respect of the trusts vested in or confided to in that section otherwise than in its ordinary sense. The comprehensive language employed by the Legislature unquestionably covers every misfeasance, breach of trust or neglect of duty with reference to the trust; and the clause must be held to include the case put forward by the plaintiffs here. As to the decisions cited on behalf of the defendant, none of them seems to have any real bearing on the present question. It is unnecessary to make any comments except perhaps with reference to one of them, viz., Sayed Amin Sahib v. Ibrahim Sahib (1868) 4 M.H.C.R. 112 on which the learned Vakil for the defendant repeatedly relied. The only point decided there was that as the members of a committee, appointed under the act who in the exercise of their power of control remove on insufficient grounds an officer or servant of a religious establishment are not necessarily guilty of misfeasance, a person thus removed can sue the members without obtaining the sanction prescribed by the law in respect of a suit charging misfeasance. What such a ruling has to do with the present case, it is not easy to see. The remarks of the learned Judges at page 114 of the Report clearly indicate that they understood the section not only to enable interested persons to sue for the protection of the property and funds of religious establishments, but also to enable them to sue. the trustee in respect of mismanagement of the affairs of the establishment, even though the mismanagement is not directly connected with any property or funds in his own hands. Before concluding it may not be superfluous to observe that in trying the question arising in the case, it would be absolutely unnecessary for the Courts to investigate any of the matters of detail with descriptions of which the plaint schedule seems to be needlessly encumbered.

5. The lower Court's decree is unsustainable and is reversed. The case will be restored to the file and proceeded with according to law. The costs will abide and follow the result.

Moore, J.

6. In para. 9 of his judgment the District Judge finds that there are no special funds constituting an endowment of the deity Vedantha Chari, and that the only sufficient source for the processional and other worship which is sought to be carried out, would be derived from voluntary contributions which the, defendant as a trustee is under no obligation to accept. It dots not appear to me that it is necessary for she appellants to show that there are any special funds constituting an endowment of the deity Vedantha Chari. If it is proved that ceremonies connected with Vedantha Chari have been conducted as a custom for>a series of years and that the present to stee is not absolutely unable, owing to lack of funds to carry on these ceremonial observances in the customary manner, it appears to me that he must be held to have been guilty of neglect of duty rendering him liable to a suit under Section 14, Act XX of 1863. In para. 6 of the plaint it is alleged that there are certain endowments attached to the temple, and as no evidence was taken, it is impossible to say if this allegation is true or not.

7. I further feel very doubtful if the learned District Judge is right in holding that the trustee is in all cases and under all circumstances, under no obligation to accept voluntary contributions made with the view of certain ceremonies being carried out. I should be inclined to hold that if for a number of years it has been customary for worshippers, to tender such voluntary offerings to the trustee, and for the latter to use them for the purpose of having certain customary ceremonials carried out, it is not open to the present trustee, contrary to usage, to refuse to receive the offerings and to carry out the ceremonies.

8. As to whether there is any such custom in the present case, it is, however, impossible to decide till the evidence is taken.

9. For these reasons, I, without giving any opinion at present on the other important questions discussed in the judgment of my learned colleague, agree with him in holding that the decree of the District Judge must be set aside and the suit remanded for hearing on the merits.


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