Bombay HC Declines to Protect Historic Vitthal Rukmini Temple, Awaits Authority's Decision

However, it granted the temple status quo until a decision was made by the relevant authority.

Bombay HC Declines to Protect Historic Vitthal Rukmini Temple, Awaits Authority's Decision

The Bombay High Court (HC) ruled on Tuesday, December 12, that it could not issue an order to protect the Vitthal Rukmini temple in Girgaon, Mumbai, as an ancient temple. It said that the decision lies with the relevant authority.

The court granted the temple a status quo until the authority made a decision. This came after a plea from four locals to save the temple from redevelopment work. The locals are now asked to petition the centre or state body to designate the temple site as a historic site or an ancient monument within two weeks of the application being made.

Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Arif S. Doctor, sitting as a division bench, decided that any order requested by the petitioners for the protection and preservation of the temple site would be impermissible. This is due to the fact that the site is not listed under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, as an ancient monument of national significance.

Four Girgaon locals, Shaila Gore, Anant Mervekar, Pravinchandra Dhotre, and Anand Mali, filed a suit with the HC in 2014. They were concerned about the temple's preservation and protection. Their advocates, SK Halwasia and Pranati Mehra, argued that the temple should be preserved as a historically significant monument because it is more than 200 years old.

The court-appointed expert group provided two findings. The bench noted these and stated that it felt that the temple site needed to be preserved. The court was surprised by the fact that petitioners did not try to have the temple designated as a historical and ancient monument or added to the DCR's list of heritage precincts.

The plea argued that some private individuals had purchased the land where the temple is located and intended to renovate it. It asked for a committee to investigate the matter and for orders to cease all building within two kilometres of the temple that would result in harm to or deterioration of the structure.

The judges reviewed the Director of State Archaeological and Museum's affidavit. It stated that the temple was not designated as a protected monument and that local homeowners' 2007 renovations had stripped it of its historical and architectural context.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) filed an affidavit. It stated that although it had not designated the temple as a monument of national importance, it was in favour of protecting the temple and the idols housed within its grounds.

The court instructed the petitioners and the relevant authorities to take the appropriate action. It was noted that Article 49 of the Indian Constitution requires the State to safeguard monuments, locations, and artefacts deemed to be of national significance from defacement, destruction, or spoliation, but only for those designated as such by or under laws passed by the Parliament.

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