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Venu Gopala Swamy Temple ... vs Counsel For The Petitioners: Sri ...

C.R.P. No.1399 of 2011

19/12/2011

Nambi Venkataiah and another

Venu Gopala Swamy temple represented by its Chairman M. Pullaiah and others

COUNSEL FOR THE PETITIONERS: Sri M. Achutha Reddy

COUNSEL FOR 1ST RESPONDENT: Sri E. Madan Mohan Rao

COUNSEL FOR 2 TO 4 RESPONDENTS: Sri Kishan Rao Maturi

COUNSEL FOR 5 TO 7 RESPONDENTS: --

COUNSEL FOR 8TH RESPONDENT: Assistant Government Pleader

ORDER:

The Civil Revision Petition is directed against the order in Case No.F2/IA-01/2009, dated 22-01-2011 of the Joint Collector, Mahabubnagar.

The 1st respondent herein filed the appeal before the Joint Collector, under Section 24 of the Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Abolition of Inams Act, 1955 (for short "the Act") against the orders passed by the Revenue Divisional Officer, Mahabubnagar, in file No.K/964/96, dated 30-04-1996 granting Occupancy Rights Certificate over Survey Nos.74, 75/1, 75/2, 76, 77, 246/1 of a total extent of Ac.14.03 guntas at Pothulamadugu village of Bhoothpur Mandal, Mahabubnagar District. The 1st respondent herein contended that the lands are service inam lands endowed to Sri Sri Venu Gopala Swamy Temple, Pothulamadugu for which persons of Nambi family were poojaries. The temple inam lands burdened with service of performing poojas in the temple by Nambi family were under cultivation of the poojaries for their livelihood firstly, with Nambi Narayanamma, then with Nambi Narsimhulu and then with Nambi Ovaiah. Nambi Ovaiah, the husband of the 2nd respondent and father of respondents 3 and 4 herein and the revision petitioners herein, suppressing the said facts obtained the impugned Occupancy Rights Certificate in their favour and got the lands mutated in their names as pattedars in the Record of Rights. The Revenue Divisional Officer did not conduct any enquiry, did not issue any notice to the persons interested or the temple, and hence, the appeal before the Joint Collector.

The respondents to the appeal submitted written arguments along with the xerox copies of sethwar, Khasra Pahani and Pahani of 1973-74. They contended that the person, who filed the appeal as Chairman of the temple, was not appointed by any competent authority as such, and was not empowered to file the appeal. The lands are Mafi Inam lands but not endowment property and even if the lands are endowment lands, it is for the Endowments officials to dispute the title and ownership of the respondents.

The Joint Collector after perusing the file of the Revenue Divisional Officer, observed that as per Khasra Pahani 1954-55, the survey numbers were classified as Khidmati (service) Inam lands and so was the Sethwar. The lands were registered in the Endowments Register as lands belonging to the temple with Nambi Narsamma as the notified poojari. Any dispute as to ownership or deletion of the lands from the Register of Endowments is within the competence of the Deputy Commissioner and so long as the land is in the Register of Endowments, it shall be regarded as religious property belonging to the temple with Nambi family cultivating the lands. The Joint Collector also noted that the Assistant Commissioner of Endowments in letter No.B/750/2006, dated 1-11-2006 confirmed that M. Pullaiah, who filed the appeal, was elected as Chairman of the temple and he was competent to file the appeal. The Joint Collector observed that even any devotee interested in the temple is at liberty to file an appeal to protect the temple property. The Joint Collector referred to both the provisos to sub- section (1) of Section 4 of the Act as amended by A.P. Act 19 of 1994 with effect from 26-12-1985 prohibiting the registration of any person as occupant under Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Act except the institution itself where the lands are held for the benefit of religious institution and any registration to the contrary being null and void. Consequently, the Occupancy Rights Certificate was considered null and void and the appeal was allowed setting aside the order of the Revenue Divisional Officer, Mahabubnagar.

The revision petitioners filed the revision against the temple, wife and sons of Ovaiah and the Assistant Commissioner of Endowments, while mentioning respondents 5 to 7 shown in the cause title to be not necessary parties.

The revision petitioners claimed that M. Pullaiah is not concerned with the temple and is not the Chairman of the Trust Board and was not appointed by the Government. The copy of the letter from the 8th respondent dated 1-11-2006 referred to in the impugned order was not served on the revision petitioners. There was no procedure for election of Chairman and how the Joint Collector got the letter is unknown. Hence, Sri M. Pullaiah has no locus standi to file the appeal and if the lands belonged to an endowment, the Endowments authorities are the proper persons to file an appeal. The lands are Mafi Inam lands and not Khidmati (service) Inam lands, as shown by the xerox copies of the records filed by the revision petitioners and Nambi Ramaiah, poojari of the temple during Fasli 1332 was shown in the sethwar as Inamdar and Kathadar. The name of the temple was not shown in Column No.6 of Sethwar and Mafi Inam means "free" whereas khidmati means "service". Mafi Inam places no burden on the inamdar and the provisions of Section 4 (1) as amended by A.P. Act 19 of 1994 are inapplicable as the lands are held by Nambi Ramaiah in his individual capacity. The order of the Revenue Divisional Officer granting Occupancy Rights Certificate was right and the order of the Joint Collector was based on presumptions and assumptions without any record. The revision petitioners, therefore, desired the appellate order of the Joint Collector to be set aside.

An interim suspension of the impugned order was granted in CRPMP.No.1991 of 2011 on 7-6-2011 for four weeks and the 1st respondent-temple represented by Sri M. Pullaiah filed a petition for vacating the order in CRPMPNo.3829 of 2011 contending that the lands are registered under Section 43 of the Endowments Act and after the constitution of the Committee by proceedings No.B/750/2004, dated 4-9-2006, the Endowments Department also issued proceedings dated 23-06-2011 authorizing Sri M. Pullaiah to represent the temple. Sri M. Pullaiah was elected as Chairman in the meeting held on 14-08-2006. Mafi inam only means free from payment of land revenue and the lands are classified as Khidmati Inam lands in Khasra Pahani of 1954-55, which raises a presumption of title in favour of the temple. A patta was granted in favour of the temple in 1969 in proceedings Rc.No.A/98/18/69, dated 25-11-1969 and the revision petitioners claiming through poojari Nambi Ramaiah cannot claim patta under the Act. The revision petition is also not maintainable under Section 28 of the Act against the order under Section 24.

When the revision petition was coming up for hearing, copies of the documents were claimed to have been applied from the Endowments authorities and the 1st respondent itself filed a xerox copy of an Urdu document along with an English translation stating it to be the list of religious places of Mahabubnagar Taluk prepared by Tahsil for 1964-65 as per Section 13.

On behalf of the revision petitioners, an additional affidavit has been filed on 7-12-2011 stating that Mafi Inam means free grant, that is a personal inam of the inamdar without any burden and the Mafi inam lands were never converted into service inam lands. The first revision petitioner paid land revenue to the Village Revenue Officer in respect of the lands and the temple did not produce any record to establish the entries in the Endowments Register. Though the first revision petitioner approached the Assistant Commissioner, Endowments, Mahabubnagar for certified copies and also under the Right to Information Act, the Assistant Commissioner has not furnished information. The xerox copy of the list of religious places filed by the 1st respondent is not about the entries in Section 43 register.

Sri M. Achutha Reddy, learned counsel for the revision petitioners, E. Madan Mohan Rao, learned counsel for the 1st respondent, Sri Kishan Rao Maturi, learned counsel for the respondents 2 to 4 and Smt. Sakheera Banu, learned Assistant Government Pleader for the 8th respondent are heard.

The point for consideration is whether the impugned order of the Joint Collector is susceptible for interference in revision?

Under the Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Abolition of Inams Act, 1955, Section 2 (c) defined "inam" as meaning land held under a gift or a grant "with or without the condition of service" and coupled with the remission of the whole or part of the land revenue and "inamdar" was defined under Section 2 (d) to mean a person holding an inam or a share therein either for his own benefit or in trust. The definition of inam shows that "with or without the condition of service" also, a land may mean to be an inam, if it answered the other ingredients of the definition. In Chapter-II providing for abolition and vesting of inams and the consequences thereof, Section 4 provided for registration of inamdars as occupants. Section 4 stood amended with effect from 26-12-1985 by A.P. Act 19 of 1994, which added two provisos to sub-section (1). The first proviso stated that where inams are held by or for the benefit of charitable and religious institutions, no person shall be entitled to be registered as an occupant under Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 and the institution alone shall be entitled to be registered as an occupant of all inam lands other than those specified in clauses (a) and (c) above without restriction of extent to four and half times the family holding and without the condition of personal cultivation. The second proviso provided further that where any person other than the concerned charitable or religious institution has been registered as an occupant under Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 after the commencement of the Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Abolition of Inams (Amendment) Act, 1985, such registration shall and shall be deemed always to have been null and void and no effect shall be given to such registration. The lands herein do not patently fall within the clauses (a) and (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 4. The Occupancy Rights Certificate herein in favour of the revision petitioners and the husband of the 2nd respondent was issued on 30-04-1996 after the A.P. Act 19 of 1994 came into force amending Section 4 and the certificate mentions the same to have been issued in accordance with Section 4 (1) read with other provisions.

The copy of Asal Sethwar mentions four numbers as Mafi inam and two numbers as Sarkari. For Sarkari numbers, Ramaiah, son of Ragayya Nambi was mentioned as Khatadar, while Ramaiah poojari Nambi was mentioned as Khatadar for the four Mafi inam numbers. One number also had mentioned Deval Venu Gopala Swamy in an obvious reference to the 1st respondent temple. These Asal Sethwar entries may suggest the lands mentioned as Mafi Inam to be connected with Nambi Ramaiah as Khatadar only with reference to his being a poojari and the status of Poojari was referred to with reference to the 1st respondent temple in respect of one number. The copy of Khasra Pahani of 1954-55 on the other hand mentioned the subject survey numbers to be Khidmati inam lands, except Sy.No.75/2 mentioned as patta. There was no reference to the lands being Mafi Inam lands, while Nambi people were referred to as pattedars and inamdars. Column No.14 mentioning the nature of possession referred to the same being hereditary as a grandson in possession from inception as a priest performing pooja in the 1st respondent temple, except for Sy.No.75/2 out of the subject lands. The copies of the Pahanies of 1973-74 mentioned Nambi people as inamdar except for Sy.No.75/2 and the words "Poojari Venu Gopala Swamy" were mentioned at least at four places in the copy at pages 29 and 30 of the material papers. Even the Ryot pass book issued to Nambi Narsimhulu mentioned him as poojari Venu Gopala Swamy and Column Nos.13 to 17 mentioned the nature of possession as inamdar and referred to Deval Venu Gopala Swamy as the mortgagee. The copies of the land revenue receipts filed by the revision petitioners along with the additional affidavit may show the receipt of land revenue for the subject lands from Nambi people.

The entries in the revenue records and the payment of land revenue undoubtedly suggest persons of Nambi family to be in possession and cultivation of the subject lands throughout and the material papers relied on by the revision petitioners themselves had indicated the interest of the 1st respondent-temple in the subject lands. In the ryot pass book, the link between the subject lands and members of Nambi family was clearly mentioned to be with reference to their status as poojaries of the 1st respondent-temple. The entries in Asal Sethwar and Khasra Pahani 1954-55 mentioning the lands to be Mafi inam and Khidmati inam respectively are not unambiguously consistent with the claims of the revision petitioners about the lands being Mafi inam lands, which according to them, means not burdened with any condition of service. If the lands are Khidmati lands as mentioned in Khasra Pahani, even the revision petitioners do not claim unfettered rights to have an Occupancy Rights Certificate in respect of the lands.

While the definition of inam under Section 2 (c) and of inamdar under section 2 (d) of the Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Abolition of Inams Act, 1955 did not make any distinction between Mafi inam and Khidmati inam, and the definition of inam specifically referred to such land being held "with or without the condition of service", the applicability of both the provisos to Section 4 (1) introduced by A.P. Act 19 of 1994 to the subject lands does not appear to be disputable. That the subject inam lands are held for the benefit of the 1st respondent-temple is evident from the material papers filed by the revision petitioners themselves and the Occupancy Rights Certificate was issued subsequent to the A.P. Act 19 of 1994 coming into force. The action of the Revenue Divisional Officer appears to contravene the said provisos to Section 4 (1). The contention of the 1st respondent-temple that no notice was issued to anybody and no enquiry was conducted by the Revenue Divisional Officer is not shown to be incorrect and fundamental principles of natural justice and basic rules of judicial procedure required that the 1st respondent-temple, the interest of which in the subject lands was evident from the references to it in the relevant revenue record ought to have been given a notice and a reasonable opportunity of being heard before issuance of the Occupancy Rights Certificate.

The 1st respondent claimed the lands to be registered under Section 43 of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987 and both parties were furnished with the information by the Assistant Commissioner, Endowments about the list of religious places of Mahabubnagar Taluk prepared by Tahsil for 1964-65 as per Section 13 and item-72 refers to the 1st respondent-temple in respect of Ac.13.18 guntas in Sy.Nos.74, 76, 77 and 246 of Pothulamadugu. It was stated to be unregistered. Under Section 43 of the A.P. Act 30 of 1987, the registration of Charitable and Hindu Religious institutions and Endowments is provided for. On registration and issuance of a certificate of registration, the particulars shall be entered in "the register of institutions and endowments" maintained by the Assistant Commissioner concerned. Assuming that the information furnished by the Assistant Commissioner herein is not with reference to Section 43 register and even assuming that the registration under Section 43 is not probablised by any material on record, the two provisos to Section 4 (1) of the Act do not refer to such registration or entries in the register to be preconditions for the applicability of the said provisos. The applicability of the said provisos arises by the very fact that the inams are held by or for the benefit of a Charitable and Religious Institution. The applicability of the said statutory provision cannot be made conditional with reference to Section 43 of the A.P. Act 30 of 1987.

By virtue of Section 87 of the A.P. Act 30 of 1987, the Deputy Commissioner of Endowments concerned has to enquire into and decide any dispute as to the question whether any property is an endowment. Section 76 of the A.P. Act 30 of 1987 prohibits transfer of lands granted for rendering service to a religious or charitable institution or endowment and Section 77 provides for resumption of inam lands. The applicability of the provisions of Chapter-X of A.P. Act 30 of 1987 concerning alienation of any immovable property and resumption of inam lands also may be thus relevant. But, no deep probe into the effect of the provisions of the A.P. Act 30 of 1987 on the subject dispute need or should be made herein, to avoid any prejudice to the contentions and rights of the parties in any appropriate proceedings to which they may take recourse to in respect of the subject lands.

The revision petitioners also questioned the competency of Sri M. Pullaiah claiming to be the Chairman of the Trust Board of the 1st respondent-temple to file the appeal before the Joint Collector or to represent the 1st respondent- temple. In his counter-affidavit in CRPMP.No.3829 of 2011, Sri M. Pullaiah stated that the temple Committee was constituted vide proceedings dated 4-9-2006 in B/750/2004 and he was elected as Chairman in the meeting held on 14-08-2006 and the Endowments Department issued proceedings dated 23-06-2011 authorizing him to represent the temple. The Joint Collector had noted in his order about the letter of the Assistant Commissioner, Endowments No.B/750/2006, dated 1-11- 2006 confirming Sri M. Pullaiah to be the Chairman of the temple and there is no reason to suspect the correctness of the said statement. Even otherwise, the Joint Collector stated that even a devotee interested in the temple is at liberty to file an appeal to protect the interest of the temple. That it is so is evident from Section 24 of the Act, which gave such right of appeal to any person aggrieved. In fact, the right to appeal under Sections 26 and 27 of the Act was also given to any person aggrieved. While the impugned order cannot suffer any invalidity on that ground, Sri M. Pullaiah in his counter-affidavit also referred to a patta being granted in favour of the 1st respondent-temple in proceedings RC.No.8/98/18/69, dated 25-11-1969, which of course, was not the subject of the impugned order.

The claim that the lands were held by Nambi Ramaiah or any other member of the Nambi family in their individual capacity but not for the benefit of the 1st respondent-temple is improbablised by the entries in the very material papers relied on by the revision petitioners as referred to above and the impugned order, thus, does not appear to suffer from such irregularity or illegality as would warrant interference in exercise of the restricted revisional jurisdiction under Section 28 of the Act and contrary to the material papers filed by the revision petitioners, the Joint Collector mentions the xerox copies of the Sethwar also to be referring to the subject lands as Khidmati (service) Inam lands.

The maintainability of the revision under Section 28 against the appellate order under Section 24 is also questioned, which objection is not open to ex facie rejection. But, in the light of elaborate submissions made by the learned counsel for both parties on merits, the questions raised are accordingly answered.

While the impugned order is not susceptible for interference for various reasons stated above, the admitted possession of the subject lands with members of Nambi family acting as poojaries of the 1st respondent-temple is not interfered with by the impugned order or this order. Independent of these proceedings, both the parties are at liberty to take recourse to appropriate proceedings to which they are entitled to in accordance with law in respect of the subject lands, if they are so advised and so desire.

Accordingly, the Civil Revision Petition is dismissed without costs. _____________________

G. BHAVANI PRASAD, J