1. This petition raises a question of the scope of Section 6 of Madras Act, V of 1947, which authorised, entry into Hindu temples and the offer of worship therein by certain classes of Hindus who by custom or usage were previously excluded from such entry and worship. Section 3 of the Act declared the rights of excluded classes to enter into a Hindu temple and offer worship therein and also the right to bathe in any sacred tank situated within or outside the precincts of the temple. The petitioner is the defendant in a suit filed by the respondents who have made no appearance on this petition. They are two Thias, one Numbudiri Brahmin and two Nayars, who joined in a suit to enforce the right of entry into the temple and to bathe in a tank attached to it impleading the petitioner as the defendant. The petitioner pleaded that the temple was a private one belonging to his family and also inter alia that under Section 6, the Court was bound to refer for the determination of the Provincial Government the question raised on his written statement, viz., whether the place in question was or was not a temple as defined in the Act. On a preliminary issue, the learned District Munsif held that Section 6 was not a bar to the maintainability of the suit.
2. Section 6 reads as follows :
'If any question arises as to whether a place is or is not a temple as defined in this Act, the question shall be referred to the Provincial Government and their decision shall be final, subject however to any decree passed by a competent civil Court in a suit filed before it within six months from the date of the decision of the Provincial Government.'
It is argued that the section is silent as to when the question arises and that whether it arises before or after the institution of the suit, the question shall be referred to the Provincial Government. According to the plaint allegations defendant put up a fence to stop the plaintiffs from entering the temple or tank ; presumably therefore prior to the suit the defendant took the position that the temple and tank were the private property of his own family. Section 6 appears to lay down an obligation on him also, in the circumstances, to refer the question as to whether the temple and the tank claimed by the petitioners as places of public worship and usage was or was not a temple as defined under Section 1 (2) of the Act. This obligation defendant failed to perform, nor has he taken any steps in this direction even after the suit was filed. It is argued that there is a mandatory duty cast upon the Court to make the reference to the Provincial Government and stay the present suit until their decision is reached. If this position is accepted, the stay of the suit will have to be continued still further as the decision of the Provincial Government is subject to a decree passed by a competent civil Court in a suit filed within six months of the Provincial Government's decision. The learned District Munsif fully appreciated the absurd position which would result if he stayed the suit and made a reference to the Provincial Government. Section 6 does not cast on the Court in which a suit is filed to enforce rights created by Madras Act, V of 1947, any obligation to stay such a suit and make a reference to the Provincial Government to decide whether the place in dispute is or is not a temple. Section 6 as it appears to me, lays a mandatory obligation on the parties concerned in a dispute, as to whether a place is or not a temple, to refer it first to the Provincial Government and is designed to give the parties affected an easy remedy free from court-fee to assist them in the enforcement or resistance of rights claimed under the Act without compelling them to go to Court.
3. There appears to have been no suit notice issued by the plaintiffs to defendant, before the suit was instituted, filed. A regrettable characteristic of such litigation is the absence of any preliminary correspondence between the lawyers on both sides with a view to bring the parties, if possible, together. In this case, a suit appears to have been filed by the plaintiffs without any notice of suit at all. The result has been that the avenue of Section 6, which ought and could have been explored before a suit was filed has been grossly neglected by both sides. While deprecating the impulsiveness of the vakil for the plaintiffs in rushing to Court with this suit, I see no grounds for any interference with the order passed by the learned District Munsif which appears to me correctly to interpret the scope of Section 6.
4. It is noteworthy that ultimately under Section 6, the authority to decide whether a place is or is not a temple is the civil Court itself. In the present case, it is extremely difficult to say who ought to have performed the obligation under Section 6, in the first instance, whether plaintiffs on their rights to use the temple being obstructed by the putting up of the fence or the defendant who obviously knew of the intentions of the plaintiffs to use the temple as places of worship in spite of his protests and obstruction. Section 6 is not an easy one to interpret but when the possible interpretations give one the choice between one which is reasonable, and one which is unreasonable and likely to involve a protracted delay which the framers of the Act could never have, in my view, contemplated, the Court would be justified in giving the section the more reasonable interpretation which the learned District Munsif has in the present case given. I find myself in complete agreement with the view he has taken of Section 6. The petition is dismissed but with no order as to costs.