Bhumiswami (owner of the land): The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that a priest cannot be treated as Bhumiswami (owner of the land) and the deity is the owner of the land attached to a temple.
- According to a Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and A. S. Bopanna, a ‘pujari’, or a priest cannot be treated as Bhumiswami (owner of the land).
- The priest only holds the land for the purpose of management of the property of the temple.
- The apex court noted that the ownership column only requires the name of the deity alone because the deity as a juristic person is the owner of the land.
- Occupation of the land is also by the deity which is carried out by servants or managers on behalf of the deity.
- Thus, the name of the manager or priest is not required to be mentioned in the column of the occupier.
- It added that the law is clear on the distinction that the Pujari is not a Kashtkar Mourushi, (tenant in cultivation) or a government lessee or an ordinary tenant of the maufi lands (land exempted from payment of revenue) but holds such land on behalf of the Aukaf Department (relating to ‘Devasthan) for the purpose of management.
- The Pujari is only a grantee to manage the property of the deity and such grant can be reassumed if the Pujari fails to do the task assigned to him, i.e, to offer prayers and manage the land. He cannot be thus treated as a Bhumiswami.
Can the collector be the manager of the property?
- SC said that the name of the Collector as a manager cannot be recorded in respect of property vested in the deity as the Collector cannot be a manager of all temples unless it is a temple vested with the State.
- The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by Madhya Pradesh challenging an order of the High Court which quashed two circulars issued by the state government under the MP Law Revenue Code, 1959 (Code).
- Both these circulars ordered the deletion of the names of pujari from the revenue record so as to protect the temple properties from unauthorized sale by the priests.