Sambudamurthi Mudaliar Vs. State of
Madras & ANR  INSC 240 (15 September 1969)
15/09/1969 RAMASWAMI, V.
CITATION: 1971 AIR 2363 1970 SCR (2) 424
Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable
Endowments Act (19 of 1951), s. 6(9)--Trustee of temple elected for fixed
period by members of community who established temple--If hereditary trustee.
The appellant was elected as a trustee of a
temple for one year. The temple was rounded two hundred years ago by the
members of the community and according to the usage of the temple, the trustees
were elected for one year, at a meeting of the members of the community.
On the question whether the appellant has a
hereditary trustee, because he was, under s. 6(9) of the Madras Hindu Religious
and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951, the 'trustee of a religious institution
succession to whose office is regulated by usage',
HELD: The phrase 'succession to whose office
is regulated by usage' would only apply when the ordinary rules of succession
under the Hindu law are modified by usage, and succession has to be determined
in accordance with the modified rules. The office of a hereditary trustee is in
the nature of property. Succession in relation to property implies passing of
an interest from one person to another.
[428 C-D] In the present case, the election
to the office was for a fixed period of one year. In such a case, it is not
possible to say there is a succession to the office, because: (a) on the efflux
of the period for which one trustee is appointed, there is a vacancy and
another is elected to that vacancy, and (b) since there is a possibility of the
same trustee being reelected, an impossible legal position arises in which a
person could be a successor of himself. [429 F-H] In re Hindu Women's Right to
Property Act, 1941  F.C.R. 12, Ganesh Chunder Dhur v. Lal Behary, 63 I.A.
448, Bhabatarini v. Ashalata, 70 I.A. 57, Angurbala Mullick v. Debabrata
Mullick,  S.C.R. 1125. 1134 and Sital Das v. Sant Ram, A.I.R. 1954 S.C.
Shri Mahant Paramananda Das Goswwami v.
Radhakrishna Das. 51 M.L.J. 258, referred to.
State of Madras v. Ramakrishna, I.L.R. 
Mad. 1084, approved.
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 1671 of 1966.
Appeal from the judgment and decree dated
March 31, 1965 of the Madras High Court in Appeal No. 276 of 1962.
M.K. Ramamurthi, Vineet Kumar, L Ramamurthy
and Shyamala Pappu, for the appellant.
A.V. Rangam, for the respondents.
425 The Judgment of the Court was delivered
by Ramaswami, J. This appeal is brought by certificate from the judgment of the
Madras High Court dated March 31, 1965 in A.S. No. 276 of 1962.
The appellant 'brought the suit in O.S. No. 3
of 1961 in the Court of Subordinate Judge, Nagapattinam for setting aside the
order dated May 10, 1960 of respondent No. 1 the Commissioner of Hindu
Religious and Charitable Endowments, Madras who had affirmed earlier the order
of the second respondent, the Deputy Commissioner, holding that the trusteeship
of the Kumaran Koil in Manjakollai village was not hereditary. The appellant
was elected as a trustee by the Sengunatha Mudaliars of Manjakollai village at
a meeting held on June 27, 1957. According to the appellant the temple was
rounded two hundred years ago by the members of his community and since then
the management of the temple and is affairs was always vested in the community
of the Sengunatha Mudaliars and no person other than the elected trustee had at
any time the right of management and control of the temple. The appellant said
that the temple was declared as an "exempted" temple under the
provisions of Madras Act 1 of 1925. The case of the appellant was that the
trusteeship of the temple was "hereditary". The respondents, however,
took a different view and proceeded on the basis that trusteeship of the
Kumaran Koil was not hereditary. The Subordinate Judge held that the appellant
was a hereditary trustee and the suit was not barred by limitation. The
respondents took the matter in appeal to the Madras High Court which by its
judgment dated March 31, 1965 allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of
the Subordinate Judge Nagapattinam.
Section 6, sub-s. (9) of Madras Act 19 of
"In this Act, unless there is anything
repugnant in the subject or context-- (9) 'hereditary trustee' means the
trustee of a religious institution succession to whose office devolves by
hereditary right or is regulated by usage or is specifically provided for by
the founder, so long as such scheme of succession is in force;" This Act
has been substituted by Madras Act 22 of 1959 but the definition of the trustee
is identical in both the Acts.
The question to be considered in this appeal
is whether the appellant is a hereditary trustee Within the meaning of the
section. The definition includes three types of cases:
(1) succession to the office of trusteeship
devolving by hereditary right; (2) succession 426 to such office being
regulated by usage; and (3) succession being specifically provided for by the
founder on condition that the scheme of such succession is still in force. It
is not the case of the appellant that the trustees of the temple of the Kumaran
Koil are hereditary trustees because their office' devolves by hereditary right
or because succession to that office is specifically provided for by the
founder. The contention on behalf of the appellant is that the succession is
"regulated by usage". It was said that according to the usage of the
temple the trustees were elected for a period of one year each at a meeting of
the members of the Sangunatha Mudaliar Community and so the appellant must be
held to be a trustee within the meaning of s. 6(9) of Act 19 of 1951. In our
opinion, there is no warrant for this argument. The phrase "regulated by
usage" in s. 6(9) of the Act must be construed along with the phrase
"succession to this office" and when so construed that part of the
definition would only apply where the ordinary rules of succession under the
Hindu law are modified by usage and succession has to be determined in
accordance with the modified rules. The word "succession" in relation
to property and rights and interests in property generally implies
"passing of an interest from one person to another" (vide in Re:
Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1941 (1). It is now well-established that
the office of a hereditary trustee is in the nature of property. This is so
whether the trustee has a beneficial interest of some sort or not (see Ganesh
Chunder Dhur v. Lal Behary(2) and Bhabatarini v. Ashalata(3). Ordinarily a
shebaitship or the office of dharmakartha is vested in the heirs of the founder
unless the ,founder has laid down a special scheme of succession or except when
usage or custom to the contrary is proved to exist. Mukherjea J., in Angurbala Mullick
v. Debabrata Mullick(4) delivering the judgment of this Court observed:
"Unless therefore, the founder has
disposed of the shebaitship in any particular manner--and this right of
disposition is inherent in the founder--or except when usage or custom of a
different nature is proved to exist, shebaitship like any other species of
heritable property follows the line of inheritance from the founder." In
the case of mutts, whose heads are often celibates and sometimes sanyasins,
special rules of succession obtain by custom and usage. In Sital Das v. Sant
Ram(5) the law was taken as wellsettled that succession to mahantship of a mutt
or religious institution is regulated by custom or usage of the particular
institution except where the rule of succession is laid down by the founder
himself who created the endowment. In that case the custom in (1)  F.C.R.
(2) 63 I. A. 448.
(3) 70 I.A. 57.
(4)  S.C.R. 1r2,5, (5) A.LR. 1954 S.C.
427 matters of succession to mahantship was
that the assembly of bairagis and worshippets of the temple appointed the
successor; but the appointment had to be made from the disciples of the
deceased mahant if he left any, and failing disciples, any one of his spiritual
kindred. Such a succession was described as not hereditary in the sense that on
the death of an existing mahant, his chela does not succeed to the office as a
matter of course, because the successor acquires a right only 'by appointment
and the authority to appoint is vested in the assembly of the bairagis and the
worshippets. In Sri Mahant Paramanda Das Goswami v. Radhakrishna Das(1) the
Madras High Court took the view that where succession to the mahantship is by
nomination by the holder in office, it was not a hereditary succession. In that
case Venkatasubba Rao, J. said:
"If the successor owes his title to
nomination or appointment, that is, his succession depends on the volition of
the last incumbent and does not rest upon independent title, I am inclined to
the view that the office cannot be said to be hereditary." Krishnan J.,
stated as follows:
"Where succession is by nomination by
the holder in office of his successor it seems to be impossible to contend that
it is a hereditary succession. Hereditary succession is succession by the heir
to the deceased under the law, the office must be transmitted to the successor
according to some definite rules of descent which by their own force designate
the person to succeed. There need be no blood relationship between the deceased
and his successor but the right of the latter should not depend upon the choice
of any individual." It is true that the artificial definition of
hereditary trustee in s. 6(9) of the Act would include even such cases.
But the election to the office of trustee in
the present case is for a fixed period of one year and not for life. It is,
therefore, difficult to hold that the office of the appellant is hereditary
within the meaning of s. 6(9) of the Act. It is not possible to say that there
is a succession of As office to another when on the efflux of the period for
which A was appointed, there is a vacancy and B is elected to that vacancy. It
is quite possible that for that vacancy A himself might be reelected because a
retiring trustee is eligible for reelection. The possibility of A being the
successor A himself is not merely an anomaly, it is an impossible legal
position. No man can succeed to his own office. In Black's Law Dictionary the
word 'succession' is defined as follows:
"The revolution of title to property
under the law of descent and distribution.
(1) 51 M.L.J. 258.
428 The right by which one set of men may, by
succeeding another set, acquire a property in all the goods, movables, and
other chattels of a corporation.
The fact of the transmission of the rights,
estate, obligations, and charges of a deceased person to his heir or
heirs." The view we have taken is borne out by the reasoning of the Madras
High Court in State of Madras v. Ramakrishna(1).
For these reasons we hold that this appeal
fails and must be dismissed with costs.
(1)I.L.R.  Mad. 1084-.