Deoki Nandan v. Murlidhar, (1956) SCR 756, is a leading judgment of Supreme Court by a Bench of four Judges. In that case the facts found were that one Sheo Ghulam, a pious childless Hindu, constructed Thakurdwara of Sri Radhakrishnaji in Balasia village of District Sitapur. He was in MANAGEMENT of the TEMPLE till his death. He executed a ‘Will’ bequeathing all his properties to the TEMPLE and made provisions for its proper MANAGEMENT. The question arose whether the TEMPLE was dedicated to the public and whether the TEMPLE was a public or private TEMPLE. supreme court laid down that the issue whether the religious endowment as a public or a private is a mixed question of law and facts, the decision of which must be taken on the application of the legal concepts of public and private endowment to the facts found and it is open to consideration of apex Court. The distinction between a private or a public endowment is that whereas in the former the beneficiaries are specific individuals, in the latter they are the general public or a class thereof. An idol is a juristic person capable of holding properties. The properties endowed for the TEMPLE vest in it, but the idol has no beneficial interest in the endowment. The true beneficiaries are its worshipers. On facts it was found that the TEMPLE was a public TEMPLE.
In Tilkayat Shri Govindalalji Maharaj v. State of Rajasthan, (1964) 1 SCR 561 the Constitution Bench of apex Court held, on construction of evidence, that Nathdwara TEMPLE of Udaipur is a public TEMPLE with MANAGEMENT of the trustee of the property belonging to the TEMPLE. In Narayan Bhagwantrao Gosavi Balajiwale v. Gopal Vinayhak Gosavi, (1960) 1 SCR 773 a Bench of three Judges held that the long user by the public as of right and grant of land and cash by the rulers, taken along with other relevant facts were consistent only with the public nature of the endowment. It was held that Sri Balaji Venkatesh at Nasik and its Sansthan constituted charitable and religious trusts within the meaning of the Charitable and Religious Trusts Act, 1920. In that context apex Court also considered the question of burden of proof and held that it would mean of two things, namely, (1) that a party has to prove an allegation before it is entitled to a judgment in its favour; and (2) that the one or the other of the two contending parties has to introduce evidence on a contested issue. The question of onus is material only where the party on which it is placed would eventually lose if it failed to discharge the same. Where issues are, however, joined, evidence is led and such evidence can be weighed in order to determine the issues, the question of burden becomes academic.
In Ram Saroop Dasji v. S . P. Sahi, Special Officer-in-Charge of the Hindu Religious Trusts, (1959) 2 Suppl. SCR 583, another Constitution Bench reiterated the distinction between the public and private trust.In the former the beneficial interest is vested in an uncertain and fluctuating body of persons, either the public at large or some considerable portion of it, answering a particular description. In the latter, the beneficiaries are definite and ascertained individuals or who within a time can be definitely ascertained. The facts that the uncertain and fluctuating body of persons is a section of the public following a particular religious faith or is only a sect of persons of a certain religious persuasion would not make any difference on the matter and would not make the trust a private trust. It was held that Sri Thakur Laxmi Narainji was a public trust within the meaning of S.2(e) of the Bihar Hindu Religious Trusts Act, 1950. In Goswami Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji v. Ranchhoddas Kalidas, (1969) 2 SCC 853, relied on by the appellant, apex Court construing whether a public trust or a private trust laid down the following tests:
“(1) Is the TEMPLE built in such imposing manner that it may prima facie appear to be a public TEMPLE?
(2) Are the member of the public entitled to worship in that TEMPLE as of right?
(3) Are the TEMPLE expenses met from the contributions made by the public?
(4) Whether the Sevas and Utsvas conducted in the TEMPLE are those usually conducted in public TEMPLEs?
(5) Have the MANAGEMENT as well as the devotees been treating that TEMPLE as a public TEMPLE?
On the facts of that case, it was held that Haveli at Nadiad was a public TEMPLE. In that context apex Court emphasized that the origin of the TEMPLE, the manner in which its affairs are managed, the nature and extent of gifts received by it, rights exercised by the devotees in regards to worship, the consciousness of the Manager and the consciousness of the devotees themselves as to the public character of the TEMPLE are relevant factors which would go to establish that the TEMPLE is whether public or a private one. The true characer of a particular TEMPLE is to be decided on the basis of diverse circumstances.
In Goswami Shri Mahalaxmi Vahuji v. Shah Ranchhoddas Kalidas (dead), AIR 1970 SC 2025, while considering Shree Gokulnathji at Nadiad whether a public trust, apex Court had held that the TEMPLE belongs to Vallabha Sampradayees and the custom that the public are asked to enter the TEMPLE only after Goswami has finished worship is no circumstance to show that TEMPLE is private one. The power to manage TEMPLE includes the power to maintain discipline within its precincts. It was held that Shree Gokulnathji TEMPLE was a public trust. In state of Bihar v. Smt. Charusila Dasi, AIR 1959 SC 1002 another Constitution Bench found that Ishwar Shreegopal was installed as a family deity by Smt. Charusila Dasi. A trust deed was settled by her. Subsequent execution of the trust deed and the terms thereof were considered by apex Court and held to be a public endowment. In Bihar State Board of Religious Trust v. Mahant Sri Biseshwar Das, AIR 1971 SC 2057, relied on by the appellant, while reiterating the distinction between public or private endowment, one of the tests laid was that user by public as of right would be a strong circumstance to give stand to the inference that it was dedicated to the public and the public users were as of right. With regard to the MANAGEMENT of the properties and enjoyments thereof apex Court pointed out to find whether the property was given to the Math or to the head of the Math for personal benefit which has to head of the Math for personal benefit which has to be decided either from the terms of the grant or from the circumstances of the case. On the terms of the grant or from the circumstance of the case. On the terms of the deed of the gift it was held that the properties were stamped a trust properties for public purpose.
12. In T.D. Gopalan v. Commr. of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments, (1973) 1 SCR 584, relied on by the appellants, the facts were that the Mandapam was constructed on their own land. The Garbha Griha in front of the mandapam, stone idols called Dwarabalakas on either side and implements necessary for offering puja in the mandapam existed. The Commissioner declared it to be a public TEMPLE but in the suit the trial Court declared it to be a private TEMPLE. On appeal, the High Court reversed the decree of the trial Court and held that the TEMPLE was a public TEMPLE on the ground that members of the public had been worshipping at the shrine without let or hindrance, and that the TEMPLE was being run by contributions and by benefactions obtained from members of the public. Apex Court considered the nature of the TEMPLE, place of worship attaching importance to the origin of the TEMPLE, the MANAGEMENT thereof by the members of the family and absence of any endowed property etc., declared it to be private TEMPLE and confirmed the decree of the trial Court. While considering those facts, apex Court held that the origin of the TEMPLE, the manner in which its affairs were managed, the nature and extent of the gifts received by it, the rights exercised by devotees in regard to worship therein, the consciousness of the Manager or devotees themselves as to the public character of the TEMPLE are facts which go to establish whether a TEMPLE is public or private. In the absence of Dwajasthamba or Nagara bell or Hundial in the TEMPLE were considered to be factors to declare the TEMPLE to be a private TEMPLE. In Dhaneshwarbuwa Guru Purshottambuwa v. Charity Commissioner, (1976) 3 SCR 518 , while reiterating the well-settled distinction between private trust or public trust, apex Court emphasised the deity installed in the TEMPLE was intended by the founder to be continually worshiped by an indeterminate multitude of the Hindu public without any hindrance or restriction in the matter of worship by the public extending over a long period. Receipt of the Royal grant, gifts of the land by members of the public, absence of any evidence in the long history of the Sansthan to warrant that it had any appearance of, or that it was ever treated as, a private property are some of the features to lead to an inescapable conclusion that Shri Vithal Rukhamai Sansthan was to be public trust within the meaning of S. 2(13) of the Act.
In T. V. Mahalinga Iyer v. State of Madras, AIR 1980 SC 2036, it was held that crucial question is as to whether the public worship in the TEMPLE as of right. Ordinarily, there may not be direct evidence regarding the exercise of such right by the general public and an inference has to be drawn from a wealth of circumstances. The dedication to the public need not be by a deed and may be spelt out of the circumstances present. The right of the public to worship is also a matter of inference. The initial presumption with regard to TEMPLEs in South India is that they are the public TEMPLEs, rebuttable by clinching testimony. The TEMPLE, in question, in that case, was held to be a public TEMPLE.
In Sri Radhakanta Deb v. Commr. of Hindu Religious Endowments, (1981) 2 SCC 226, apex Court was to consider whether Radhakanta Deb in Orissa State is a public or private trust. apex Court held that each case has to be decided with reference to the facts proved therein and it is difficult to lay down any test or tests which can be of universal application. Where the origin of the endowment is lost in antiquity or shrouded in mystery, there being no document or reliable entries to prove its origin, the task of the Court becomes difficult and it has to rely merely on the circumstantial evidence regarding the nature of the user of the TEMPLE. It was also further held that allowing the public to worship by itself would not make an endowment public unless it is proved that the members of the public had a right to worship in the TEMPLE. On the facts,in that case, it was held that the TEMPLE, in question, was a public TEMPLE.
In Hari Bhanu Maharaj of Baroda v. Charity Commr., (1986) 4 SCC 162, the triumph card of the appellant renders little assistance to them. Laxman Maharaj Math, built in 1835 A.D. was considered whether to be public or private Court. In view of the size of the building, existence of Samadhi on Mandir in a small extent of land, location of the Mandir, using a portion of it for residents, were held to be important factors. In view of the unimpeachable evidence of use of the Mandir for long period and the absence of Maths and tomb under the Samadhi was considered to be a private TEMPLE.
In Jammi Raja Rao v. Sri Anjaneya Swami TEMPLE Valu, (1992) 3 SCC 14, the question whether Sri Anjaneyaswamy TEMPLE, at V’puram in Andhra Pradesh is a private or a public TEMPLE. The appellant’s father claimed it to be private TEMPLE and that he was an hereditary trustee. The trial Court and the High Court held the TEMPLE to be a public TEMPLE. supreme Court dismissed the appeal confirming the decree of the High Court and Civil Court and held that the entries in the Inam Fair Register and the oral evidence establish the TEMPLE to be a public TEMPLE. Proof of user by the public without interference would be cogent that its dedication was in favour of the public. The finding that the TEMPLE is public TEMPLE is a finding of fact. It is not open to further scrutiny by supreme Court unless it suffers from errors of law.
In Kapoor Chand v. Ganesh Dutt, (1993) 4 Suppl. SCC 432, supreme Court held that dedication of private property for religious and charitable purpose may be proved by oral evidence or may be inferred from the conduct of the parties. In a suit to set aside alienation of the TEMPLE property by its Manager, supreme Court held that the High Court committed error of law in not drawing proper inference from the proved evidence or admissions. An inference of dedication of a property to the deity was drawn from the conduct of the parties.
A place in order to be a TEMPLE, must be a place for public religious worship used as such place and must be either dedicated to the Community at large or any section thereof as a place of public religious worship. The distinction between a private TEMPLE and public TEMPLE is now well settled. In the case of former the beneficiaries are specific individuals; in the latter they are indeterminate or fluctuating general public or a class thereof. Burden of proof would mean that a party has to prove an allegation before he is entitled to a judgment in his favour. The one or the other of the contending parties has to introduce evidence on a contested issue. The question of onus is material only where the party on which it is placed would eventually lose if he failed to discharge the same.[AIR 1995 SC 167 : (1994) 2 Suppl. SCR 687 : (1995) 1 Suppl. SCC 485 : JT 1994 (5) SC 152 : (1994) 3 SCALE 796]