SC refuses to vacate its order on Maintaining Existing Condition on Appointment of Priests in Tamil Nadu  Temples

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to vacate its September 25 order by which it had asked the Tamil Nadu government to maintain existing conditions on appointment of archakas’ or priests in temples governed by the Agamic’ tradition in the state.

A bench comprising Justices A S Bopanna and M M Sundresh prima facie did not agree to submissions of senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, that the state was entitled to appoint archakas’.

“The appointment of archakas’ is a secular function and the state is entitled to appoint them,” the senior advocate said.

The argument is that the state government is not following the procedures prescribed under agama’ traditions in appointing archakas’ in temples of a particular denomination, the bench said.

The agamas’ are a collection of tantric literature of Hindu schools and there are three branches of such texts – Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta’.

The top court was hearing petitions which alleged that the state government is interfering with the hereditary scheme of appointing archakas’ in Agama temples’ by allowing those from other denominations to become archakas’ after doing a one-year certificate course for archakas’ in schools run by the Tamil Nadu administration.

The bench, on September 25, ordered status quo (existing conditions) regarding appointment of archakas’ which as per the state government will halt the appointment of 2405 archakas’ by it in temples across the state.

The top court has now fixed the pleas for further hearing on January 25, 2024 and said it is not going to stay the pending proceedings before the Madras High Court on similar issue.

“You (lawyer) just tell them (the high court) that the Supreme Court is seized of it,” the bench said.

The state government, in its plea, has sought vacation of the apex court order.

“It is submitted that.., as the agama does not prescribe qualification, age, mode of selection, retirement etc., the procedures prescribed under Rules 7 and 9 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Institutions Employees (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2020 ought to be followed to that extent. The suitable persons among the persons studied and conversant with the agamas followed in the temple concerned shall be selected by following the procedures prescribed under Rules 7 and 9,” it said.

The government order, which is challenged, pertains to sending persons who have passed out of Archakas Training schools’ for practical training in temples under the guidance of senior Archakas’ who are working in those temples, it said.

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“It is submitted that if the status-quo order issued on September 25 is given effect, neither the 2,405 vacant posts of Archakaship in the Agamic temples can be filled up nor the required training contemplated for the persons who have completed courses from the Archakas Training School, can be given till disposal of the petition …and it shall cause great hardship in performing poojas in Agamic temples,” the state government said.

Earlier, the bench had issued notices to the state government and others on a plea filed by Srirangam Koil Miras Kainkaryaparagal Matrum Athanai Sarntha Koilgalin Miraskain-karyaparargalin Nalasangam’ as association of archakas.

The plea sought quashing of the July 27 order of the state government and consequential orders alleging that the administration was attempting to interfere with the hereditary scheme of appointing archakas’.

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