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SC asks Centre to review management of religious shrines to make them pilgrim-friendly

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  • SC’s directive comes with a view to protect pilgrims from getting exploited by local people and touts
  • There is no doubt that proper management of pilgrimage centres of great importance is a matter of public interest: SC

In a bid to ensure hassle-free access of pilgrims to important religious shrines without getting exploited by local people and touts, the Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre to review the management of all such holy places to make it visitors’ friendly and curb malpractices.

While hearing a PIL on alleged lack of basic facilities for visitors in Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri, a vacation bench of Justices AK Goel and Ashok Bhushan expanded the ambit of the petition and decided to examine the management policy of all important shrines in the country to ensure that their religious sanctity is maintained and to prevent their commercialisation.

“We only want that lakhs and lakhs of devotees who visit the places of worship of importance are not exploited and there are no encroachment, malpractices and misuse of funds,” the bench said. The apex court directed the Centre to set up a committee to review the management practices of all important shrines in the country and file a report before it.

“There is no doubt that proper management of pilgrimage centres of great importance is a matter of public interest. These centres are of undoubted religious, social historical and architectural importance, representing cultural heritage of our country. Millions of people visit these centres not only for tourism but also for seeking inspiration for the righteous values and for their well being. They also make huge offerings and donations for advancement of such values,” the court said.

The court issued a slew of directions to address alleged exploitation of devotees at Shri Jagannath temple and the mismanagement of its finances, including donations and offerings by pilgrims. It directed the district judge of Puri to file a report on difficulties faced by the pilgrims and the exploitative practices in temple premises as alleged by the petitioner.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Mrinalini Padhi who brought to court’s notice the “blatant commercialisation and exploitation of the devotees who are forced by to pay money by Sebayats for entering the temple. “The approach road and the surrounding premises are kept in an unclean and unhygienic manner despite the fact that the devotees have to approach the temple bare feet. The kitchen where the Prasad is prepared and the place where the Prasad is sold is not kept in a proper manner,” the petitioner said.

“In April, the rituals of the Jagannath temple was disrupted due to stand off between the servitors and the temple administration. Consequently, the Lord was left without food for more than 30 hours as the Mahaprasad could not be offered to them. This was completely without precedent in the annals of the history of the temple. There are several other reforms required in the temple to ensure that the devotees are given a hassle free ‘darshan’ of the Lord,” it said.

Agreeing to hear the petition, the bench directed the state government “to constitute forthwith a committee to study the management schemes in other important shrines such as Vaishno Devi, Somnath Temple, Golden Temple, Tirupati Temple, Dharamsthala Temple and suggest such changes as may be considered necessary.” It said the panel give its interim report by June 30.

It also directed the temple administrator to ensure that no direct collection of the offerings is done by any Sevaks and all the offerings are deposited in a temple fund. It asked that CCTV camera could be installed to check such malpractice.

“Since these issues may be common to various other important shrines in the country, we also direct Union of India to constitute a committee to collect information with regard to such other shrines so that the management practices therein can be reviewed for the benefit of all visitors, wherever necessary,” it said.

Courtesy: Times of India

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