The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court (HC) observed that government authorities including police are expected to work with a secular mind and avoid a general fear of inviting trouble if the case involves religious feelings. The court also directed the police to register offence against trustees of Jagadamba Devi Charitable Trust, Mohota in Ahmednagar for illegal acts that fall under the Black Magic Act.
The trustees had allegedly buried around two kilograms of gold in the name of Suvarna Yantras since 2011 and had misappropriated at least ₹25 lakh for performing related ceremonies.
On February 3, a division bench of justice TV Nalawade and justice MG Sewlikar while hearing a petition filed by social activist and former trustee Namdev Sahebrao Garad, 52, was informed by advocate AS Kale that the petition sought registration of a first information report (FIR) against persons on the trust for alleged misappropriation of precious metals and funds under the garb of performing religious rituals.
The petition sought to excavate the precious metals buried under the idols of goddesses at the temple to check their purity. It also urged the court to direct the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the alleged offences by the trustees and monitor the same. It also sought records and audit reports of the trust between 2009 and 2019.
Kale further submitted that the petition by Garad also mentioned a police complaint registered in 2017 by Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (ANS) over alleged illegal activity by the trust and stated that no action was initiated by the police.
Senior counsel Rajendra Deshmukh for the temple trust, however, refuted the claims and said these were false allegations against the management. He said the management had earlier conducted an inquiry after complaints from Garad, but it was rejected. Since then Garad was resorting to pressure tactics, he said and urged the court to dismiss the petition.
After hearing the submissions, the court observed that it was surprising that even the district judge, who was a member of the trust, accepted the proposals to construct structures for the ceremony involving burying of Suvarna Yantras.
The court stated, “These days, complaints are received against many managements that they are not properly managing the trust and are spending the money and are disposing of the property of the trust illegally.”
Referring to the instant case the court held that the activities of the trustees certainly fell under the prohibited acts mentioned under the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013, and the same was not permitted by the Maharashtra Public Trust Act.
The court then chided the authorities saying, “The record of so-called inquiry made by the clerical staff of the trust office, inaction on the part of deputy charity commissioner in the case, show of inquiry made by police into the matter show the authorities have no courage to take action even when such serious thing has happened.”
Citing the general fear in the minds of authorities which led them to avoid taking steps, the court held, “The general fear may be of different kinds, like the possibility that they may invite trouble as the matter involves religious feelings and it can be viewed as an act against God. In view of Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, this court holds that the authorities are expected to work with a secular mind in such cases and they need to adhere to the truth.”
Suggesting that the authority needed to have a scientific approach in such matters and adhere to the provisions of law, the court said the authority could not accept religious propositions like the one made in the present matter.
While disposing of the petition, the court directed the police to register an FIR based on the complaint made by ANS and directed that the investigation under additional or deputy superintendent of police be completed within six months.