District judge to oversee Murugha Matha till president appointed for society managing it

The matha's pontiff Shivamurthy Sharanaru is in judicial custody, facing charges under the Indian Penal Code and the POCSO Act.

BySouth First Desk

Published Sep 29, 2023 | 11:38 PMUpdatedSep 29, 2023 | 11:38 PM

Murgha Matha

On Wednesday, 27 September, the Karnataka High Court division bench of Chief Justice Prasanna B Varale and Justice MGS Kamal, disposing of a batch of seven petitions, ruled that the district judge will continue to make decisions regarding the Murugharajendra Bruhan Mutt (Murugha Matha) and its educational institutions till a president was appointed to the society that was managing it.

The court found that the school run by the matha, which manages various educational institutions, was a registered society, and only the president could make decisions regarding it.

But with the pontiff, Shivamurthy Sharanaru, who was the president, was in judicial custody, and hence a new president had to be appointed.

Till such an appointment, the district judge as the interim administrator would discharge these duties, the court said.

Power of attorney

On 13 December, 2022, the state government appointed retired IAS officer PS Vastrad as the administrator of the matha.

This was challenged in the high court, and a single-judge bench set aside the appointment and directed that the community leaders take a decision to appoint an administrator. Several appeals were filed against this single-judge judgment.

The matha claimed that Basavaprabhu, a seer from a branch of the matha, has been given the power of attorney by Shivamurthy Sharana to manage the affairs of the matha and its educational institutions as a caretaker.

The division bench, in its judgment on Wednesday, noted that the educational institutions under the “vidyapeeta” of the matha were registered under the Mysore Societies Registration Act.

Therefore, the rules and laws governing societies were applicable to it. This aspect was not presented before the single-judge bench.

Related: Where Murugha Matha case stands 6 months after seer’s arrest

Basavaprabhu as administrator

In the meantime, on 28 May 2023, the leaders of the Lingayat community, legislators and others unanimously decided to hand over the administration of the matha to Basavaprabhu Swamy. They also constituted a temporary administrative committee consisting of prominent members of the community to oversee the administration.

While the appeal was pending, the HC appointed the principal district judge of Chitradurga as the interim administrator, who took charge on 4 July.

In between, the state government withdrew its 13 December 2022 appointment of IAS officer Vastrad as administrator.

A peculiar issue

The HC was now faced with the peculiar problem “that in terms of rules and regulations of the vidyapeeta, its management and administration of the vidyapeeta shall be carried on by governing body of which the Jagadhguru of the Bruhan Math shall be the president, who shall be the supreme authority.”

However, he has been in custody since September 2022. He is also unable to transfer the power to the vice president due to this.

“This situation puts the entire issue of administration and management at the hands of the president, who is the pontiff presently incarcerated,” the HC noted.

Therefore, the HC said, till a new president is appointed as per the bye-law, rules and regulations of the vidyapeeta, the district judge will continue to take decisions which otherwise the president of the society is required to take.

“It is for this sole reason and under the unfortunate peculiar situation, also in the interest of a vast number of institutions, students, staff and the public at large we deem it appropriate that along with the members of the Overseeing Committee appointed in the meeting dated 28.05.2023, an additional member be included with power to take decisions which were required to be taken by the President,” the HC said, disposing the petitions.

Related: Shivamurthy Sharanaru arrested a week after POCSO case

The case

The matha’s pontiff Shivamurthy Sharana is in judicial custody facing charges under the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

On 26 August 2022, Mysuru City Police, registered an FIR against the pontiff Sharana, and four others under the POCSO Act following complaints by two minor girls. The FIR contained allegations of severe nature, including assault amounting to rape.

Shivamurthy Sharanaru, was arrested on 1 September, 2022, and has been lodged in the Chitradurga district prison.

Besides Shivamurthy, the warden of the Matha-run hostel, Rashmi, junior pontiff Basavadithya, Matha secretary Paramashivaiah, and an advocate, Gangadharaiah, were also arrested.

On 13 October, 2022, Nazarbad police booked another FIR, based on a complaint filed by a 38-year-old assistant woman cook at the Matha who has accused the seer of sexually abusing her two minor daughters.

Three different FIRs — all naming the pontiff as the first accused — were filed.

(With PTI inputs)