The Supreme Court on January 27 dismissed the special leave petition filed by the Andhra Pradesh Government (State of AP And Ors. versus Ahobila Mutt Parampara Adhena Shri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Devasthanam) challenging the High Court order, which set aside the Government Order issued to assign an executive officer to overlook the administrative affairs of Ahobilam Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Devasthanam belonging to Ahobilam Mutt. In its decision, the SC upheld the HC order on Ahobilam Mutt saying that the State’s decision to appoint ‘Executive Officer’ to control and manage the affairs of Ahobilam Temple in Kurnool is violative of Article 26(d) of the Constitution and disturbs the Mathadipathi’s right of administration. The bench was presided over by Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice A.S. Oka.
Article 26 (d) gives every religious group the right to administer an institution for religious and charitable purposes. It reads as: “Freedom to manage religious affairs Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to administer such property in accordance with law.”
In its appeal before the Supreme Court, the State Government had argued that the Hight Court had defaulted in concluding that the temple was inherently associated with the Ahobilam Mutt and therefore fell under the definition of the term “mutt”. “It is axiomatic that the state’s Endowments Commission ought to have administrative control over it, especially since large amounts of public fund are involved,” the State contended.
This SLP challenged the October 13, 2022, High Court order, inquiring why the activities of religious places should not be left to its religious people. The high court had observed that the Ahobilam temple in Andhra Pradesh is an “integral and inseparable part of the Ahobilam Mutt which is situated in Tamil Nadu.” It had further clarified that simply because the geographical location of the temple and the mutt are different (in Tamil Nadu and in Andhra Pradesh), the temple does not cease to be a part of the mutt. The state does not have overall authority to oversee and regulate Mutt, and intrusion in its matters should only be made when there are valid reasons to do so. The Temple and the Mutt were administered by the Mathadipathis for the longest time. Right from the existence of the Endowments Act, 1927, the Temple had been under the management of Mathadipathis, whose nomination was neither conferred upon nor exercised by the Government.
Justice Kaul opined that religious places should be left to religious people and the State need not interfere into the matters of the temple. “Why are you stepping into this? Let the temple people deal with it. Why should not religious places be left to religious people?” Justice Kaul questioned State counsel Niranjan Reddy after deeming his argument unpersuasive. He had put forth the contention that the State government had previously also appointed executive officers to the temple and there were no objections. It began only after an executive officer was designated in March 2019.
Ahobilam Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple is located in the Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, surrounded by hills of the Eastern Ghats range. As per the Brahmanda Purana, Ahobilam was the home of the demon king Hiranyakashipu who was killed by Lord Narasimhaswamy. The demigods praised Lord Narasimha as ‘Ahobala’, which implies ‘great strength’.