Bombay HC accepts PIL challenging funds transfer from Siddhivinayak Temple Trust to Maharashtra Govt

The Bombay High Court has accepted a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) contesting the transfer of funds from the famous Siddhivinayak Temple to the Maharashtra state government. However, the court refused to grant any interim relief in the petition, observing that if the petitioner wins, the court can always direct the state government to reverse the transactions made.

The matter was heard by a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Revati Mohite-Dere. The bench issued notices to the Trust and its Executive Officer seeking their response and instructed the State Government to file a reply affidavit by the 18th of September this year. The case will be again heard in the month of October.

A petition challenging the transfer of the funds from the Siddhivinayak Temple Trust to Maharashtra state government was filed by a Goregaon resident Leela Ranga, a devout Hindu and an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesh, who regularly visited and donated at the Siddhivinayak Temple. The petition had sought to challenge two resolutions passed by the state government in connection with the fund transfers of Rs 5 crores each.

Shree Siddhi Vinayak Ganpati Temple Trust Act 1980 forbids the transfer of money for non-specific purposes

Arguing before the court, senior advocate Pradeep Sancheti and advocate Ghanshyam Mishra contended that both these transfers were against the special law passed to govern how the money collected at the temple can be utilised. Sancheti asserted that an analysis of the first GR shows that the transfer was “initiated” by the Maharashtra government and not by the Trust.

He further added that on the second occasion, the Government’s approval came two months after the transfer of Rs 5 crore was made, while the law mandated for “advance sanction” for purposes defined in it.

The first transfer of Rs 5 crore was made for bankrolling government scheme called “Shiv Bhojan” which provides meals at Rs 10 to the poor and the destitute, the next tranche of Rs 5 crore was transferred to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The petitioner argued that none of the two transactions was covered under the special law—Shree Siddhi Vinayak Ganpati Temple Trust (Prabhadevi) Act, 1980 – as section 18 of the Act provides for the transfer of money only for very specific purposes. The purposes which are not associated with the temple, and can be used for donations are– establishment and maintenance of any educational institutions, hospitals, dispensaries, homes for destitute persons or persons physically disabled or other charitable or religious institutions, or giving financial aid to such institutions or persons.

However, this, too, can be done only if it is authorised by the committee of the Trust, and if it has surplus funds for donations. Still another stipulation prevents the Trust from transferring money to a single entity more than once within five years.

Petitioner alleges a nexus between Chairman of Siddhivinayak Trust and Maharashtra Government

The lawyers arguing for the petitioner alleged that there could be a possible quid pro quo between these transfers and the extension granted to the Chairman of the Managing Committee of the Trust by the State Government last month. The petition stated that instead of pulling up committee of the Trust for authorising the payment without following due procedure, the Chairman of the Trust was rewarded by providing him with an extension.

“The government cannot be the recipient of any donations from the Trust. If it were to be concluded otherwise, the Government, being the sanctioning authority, would be in a position to confer largess upon itself, which could not have been the intention of the Act,” the petition reads.

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