This article on ‘Kalkaji Temple Case: All you need to know‘ was written by Risha Sharma, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
This article has briefly discussed the legal proceedings concerning the infamous Kalkaji Temple Case, which has time and again been the prime subject of several legal disputes. The following article gives an overview of the issues raised and orders and judgments laid down by the courts in respect of the same. The article has specifically focused on the judicial decisions laid down in recent years, i.e., within the span of 2021-2022, with a backdrop of relevant Supreme Court cases pertaining to the Temple.
Kalkaji Temple Case: So far
The entirety of the proceedings so far deal with the maintenance and administration of the Kalkaji Temple located in South Delhi. Various Courts have time and again passed orders taking into account the rights of baridaars, the temples’ maintenance, and their unsatisfactory functioning and sanitation conditions.
Previous proceedings before the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in the past has dealt with the issues of cleanliness, sanitation, and other civic amenities of the temple. In 2013, a three-judge Bench stayed Delhi HC’s order directing the municipal authorities to demolish unauthorised constructions within the Kalkaji Premises. The SC then passed various orders for improving the overall sanitation of the temple and in December 2015, a committee was established solely to verify the state of cleanliness and hygiene in the Mandir. The SC in 2016 ordered the Delhi Jal Board to take account of the dire sewage situation in the Mandir.
In 2017, the SC considered the issues relating to the reorganization of the Mandir complex and gave directions for compliance with installing metal barriers, fire safety, and sewage repair. For garbage cleaning, the SDMC had stated that people would be employed to clean the area surrounding the temple. Despite the slew of orders passed over the years by the SC, no action was taken by the civic bodies or the baridaars for the maintenance and sanitation of the temple complex.
Appointment of the local commissioner
In February 2021, the Delhi High Court passed a detailed order through which a Local Commissioner (“LC”) was appointed to determine several aspects of the temple’s functioning including the manner of handling offerings and donations, the persons conducting the puja sewa, and the average number of devotees visiting the temple. The findings of the LC revealed disturbing practices being carried out in the temple. It was discovered that the historically significant temple was almost being run as a “commercial enterprise”, wherein the puja rights were being auctioned, an alarmingly large amount of disparity in offerings/donation collection was observed and several advertisements and hoardings lined the temple’s vicinity.
Appointment of Court Receivers
The reports further revealed that there were minimal facilities available to the devotees like drinking water, clean toilets, resting areas, etc. There was unauthorised construction in and around the temple, illegal collection of tehbazari by individuals who had somehow gained control over the temple, auctioning of bari to the highest bidder, etc. To counter these, two Court Receivers were appointed to carry out some tasks such as assessing the numerous donation boxes and offerings received at the temple.
This order was challenged in the Supreme Court by a special leave petition (“SLP”) and was ultimately dismissed, with the SC commending the order, stating “It is a very good order by Justice Pratibha Singh. It is a tough action, necessary to bring order to such places.”
Report findings and issues
It is not surprising that the reports of the Court Receivers yielded disappointing results about the temple’s state of affairs, following which several orders were passed by the Delhi HC taking note of the numerous disputes surrounding the temple. In July, the LC was yet again appointed to make surprise visits to the temple and submit reports regarding the collection of offerings and donations, the persons conducting the puja sewa, and facilities for the devotees. The LC’s August visit further revealed that there were no medical facilities in the temple complex and no fire tenders in the nearby area, along with several security concerns. Thus, the Court took note of three major issues:
- Re-development of the temple premises, and the provision of civic amenities and hygienic conditions in and around the temple,
- Rights, occupation, and the manner of allocation and revenue collection from shopkeepers, tehbazari holders, and dharmshalas, and
- Legal issues relating to puja sewa rights
The baridaars appearing were on board with the idea that the Mandir complex was in dire need of re-development and needed better sanitation. Through various orders passed from May to August, the Court further directed the involved parties to provide proposals for the maintenance of cleanliness, provision of civic amenities, re-development, and renovation at the Mandir premises. By the order dated 8th September, SDMC and Delhi Police were ordered to carry out a joint inspection and report to the Court about unauthorized occupation and development around the temple.
Additionally, the Court directed the Delhi Jal Board to place on record the details of the tenders that were floated for the execution of sewerage work in the temple. The joint-inspection report highlighted issues such as congestion, encroachment, the need for a multilevel parking system, highly dilapidated Dharamshalas and buildings surrounding the temple, etc.
Directions by the Delhi HC
The Court issued three directions: streamlining the resolution process of disputes between the baridaars, removal of unauthorised construction and encroachments, and administration, governance, and maintenance of the temple. Accordingly, the Court directed “all unauthorized occupants/encroachers, who do not enjoy valid tehbazari licenses, and who are in unauthorized occupation of the said premises, would be liable to be removed, until and unless there is a Court order protecting the said occupant. All encroachments in the Mandir premises and complex and peripheral areas are also directed to be removed.”
For the administration, maintenance, and governance of the temple, the HC appointed Justice J.R Midha as the Administrator of the temple to pass any orders for the temple’s effective and safe functioning, with the LC’s assistance (Ms. Manmeet Arora). The court also appointed renowned architect Mr. Goonmeet Singh Chauhan, to submit a re-development plan for the same. On 15th November, the HC passed directions for the posting of police personnel at the temple and also laid down directions for the inspection of toilet complexes, establishing a medical centre, etc.
The Court passed additional directions for the removal of unauthorised encroachments in December. The Court also called for a meeting between the administrator, and the baridaars as an interim measure for the temple’s redevelopment.
Further Developments in the Kalkaji Temple Case
The orders passed by the Court in December provided for alternative accommodations or night shelters for jhuggi dwellers and dharamshala occupants. However, due to non-compliance, the HC ordered the Delhi Police to proceed with the eviction of unauthorised occupants of jhuggis and dharamshalas. The SC refused to interfere with the plea challenging the said eviction by stating that “maintenance of the temple and its surroundings in a dignified manner in the interests of the devotees must be of paramount importance.”
The SC refused to stay the HC’s order for the appointment of the administrator of the Temple. Later on, in April, the Delhi HC called for the erection of a boundary wall or barricade to prevent encroachment, and also directed the setting up of temporary shops. The Court further said that the shops lining the rim of the premises would be dealt with after the boundary or barricade is set up.
In June 2022, the HC reiterated that “the occupants of the dharamshalas and pujaris cannot claim a vested right to remain in the Mandir premises,” and called for the pujaris and dharamshala occupants to vacate the premises. The SC granted two weeks for the same. On 17th October 2022, the SC appointed the ASG Aishwarya Bhati as the amicus curiae, in a plea opposing the Delhi HC’s order for the maintenance and administration of the Temple.
It can be observed through the string of judgments and orders passed over the years by the various Courts that the legal system has been quite proactive in taking up the matter of the Kalkaji Mandir for upholding the sanctity of the same. By giving high regard to the interests of the deity as well as the devotees, the Courts have ensured that the functioning, maintenance, governance and administration of the temple are vested within the right hands to make the state of affairs more convenient and transparent the devotees, while also ensuring that the interests of unauthorised occupants are given due importance.
- Kalkaji Mandir v. Piyush Joshi, SLP(C) No. 32452-32453/2013
- Kalkaji Mandir Vikreta Sangatahn v. Piyush Joshi, SLP (C) No. 32452-453/2013
- Kalkaji Mandir Vikreta Sangathan-II v. Piyush Joshi, SLP(C) 32452-53/2013
- Neeta Bharadwaj v. Kamlesh Bharadwaj, FAO 36/2021
- Neeta Bhardwaj v Kamlesh Sharma, 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 191
- Neeta Bhardwaj v Kamlesh Sharma, 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 541
- “Delhi HC orders eviction of people from Kalkaji Mandir premises”, The Indian Express, March 24, 2022, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/delhi-hc-orders-eviction-of-people-from-kalkaji-mandir-premises-7833540/ (last visited on October 21, 2022)
- “Removal of encroachment from Kalkaji temple: SC says 3-judge bench will hear matter”, The Hindu, October 10, 2021, available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/removal-of-encroachment-from-kalkaji-temple-sc-says-3-judge-bench-will-hear-matter/article36926703.ece (last visited on October 21, 2022)
- “SC refuses to interfere with Delhi HC order on eviction of unauthorised occupants from Kalkaji Mandir”, The Indian Express, March 25, 2022, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/sc-refuses-interfere-delhi-hc-order-eviction-unauthorised-occupants-kalkaji-mandir-7836496/ (last visited on October 21, 2022)
- Abhinav Garg, “Remove all illegal encroachments from Kalkaji temple, orders Delhi HC”, The Times of India, December 9, 2021, available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/remove-all-illegal-encroachments-from-kalkaji-temple-orders-hc/articleshow/88173647.cms (last visited on October 21, 2022)
- LiveLaw, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kalkaji-temple-supreme-court-delhi-high-court-court-receiver-donations-puja-prathiba-singh-170236 (last visited on October 20, 2022)
- LiveLaw, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/delhi-high-court-says-maintenance-of-kalkaji-temple-complex-dismal-appoints-local-commissioner-179842 (last visited on October 20, 2022)
- LiveLaw, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/delhi-hc-sdmc-police-conduct-join-inspection-seeks-report-unauthorised-construction-181416 (last visited on October 21, 2022)
- LiveLaw, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/delhi-high-court-maintenance-of-kalkaji-temple-meeting-of-administrators-and-baridaars-188198 (last visited on October 20, 2022)
- LiveLaw, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kalkaji-mandir-3-judge-bench-of-supreme-court-to-hear-appeal-against-delhi-hc-order-on-removal-of-encroachments-183598 (last visited on October 21, 2022)
- LiveLaw, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-kalkaji-temple-time-unauthorized-occupants-vacate-202530 (last visited on October 21, 2022)