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Siddhivinayak temple trust members, state govt. file contradictory affidavits

Siddhivinayak temple trust members, state govt. file contradictory affidavits

In a reply to the Bombay High Court plea challenging the transfer of funds, the members of Siddhivinayak temple trust and state government have filed affidavits contradicting one another on the issue of two grants worth INR 5 crore each to the state, said a report released on November 25.

The Bombay High Court, in August, had directed the state government and temple trust to file their affidavits against the petition challenging the government’s decision on transfer of trust’s funds.

To control the spread of coronavirus in a timely manner, Priyanka Chhapwale, an official from the government’s Law and Judiciary department, also the member secretary of the managing committee of the temple’s trust have justified the grants as a special case in the larger public interest. She has also referred to the meetings conducted in February and March this year with all 11 members being present; whereas the three other members of the committee -- Sumant Ghaisas, Bharat Parikh and Mahesh Mudaliyar have completely denied being a part of the trust meeting where these issues were spoken.

This was unveiled before the division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni, while they were hearing a PIL filed by a practising advocate Leela Ranga.

The petition also sought from the court to direct the state government to conduct an inquiry in the April 15 decision to transfer INR 5 crore and action against members of the management committee for taking it. It also challenged the departmental inquiry in Government Resolutions (GR) of March 19 and June 25 pertaining to the transfer of funds and said these sanctions were not as per law.

The petitioner also said that in one of the GRs, the government had initiated the transfer instead of the trust, which was against the special law. Moreover, the PIL also sought from the court to set aside a July 23 GR that extended the tenure of chairman of trust’s management committee by another three years, which had taken earlier decisions about funds transfers.

Moreover, the petition also argued that neither of the fund transfers was covered under the special law – Shree Siddhivinayak Ganpati Temple Trust (Prabhadevi) Act, 1980 – as section 18 of the Act provides for a transfer of money only for very specific purposes. Another provision bars the trust from donating money to a single entity more than once within five years.

Represented by Senior Advocate Pradeep Sancheti and Advocate Ghanshyam Mishra, the PIL contends both the transfers and GRs were contrary to the special law on the utilisation of surplus money collected at the temple. They alleged that the first transfer was initiated by the government itself for a  scheme called ‘Shiv Bhojan’, which provides meals at INR 10 to the poor. On the second occasion, the government’s approval came two months after the transfer of INR 5 crore. It was for the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The affidavit also stated the details about how Shiv Bhojan scheme benefits the poor visitors as well and the other money transferred from that account has been spent on medical facilities related to the pandemic, therefore covered by the act.

The bench has adjourned the case and allowed the petitioner to make all other members a party to the petition. They have also sought a reply from them, as the petitioner has now requested disqualification of all the members.

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