The Supreme Court Wednesday set aside the Jharkhand High Court's order by which the CBI was directed to probe alleged illegal transfer of a Ram temple land in Ranchi belonging to the deity.
The apex court observed that remarks by the high court that the matter was needed to be probed by the CBI were "wholly untenable" and the power to direct a CBI investigation should not be exercised in a routine manner without examining the complexities and nature of offence.
A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta delivered the judgement on an appeal filed against the June 7, 2017 order of the high court.
"We find that the high court has completely misdirected itself in directing the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over investigation in a matter which relates to the rights of the trustees to sell property of a religious trust or deity, giving rise to civil dispute," the bench said.
The high court had directed CBI probe into the matter and said it was of the prima facie view that land of the deity could not have been transferred in any case and this "large scale illegality" was needed to be enquired into.
While deciding the appeal, the apex court said the high court had "travelled much beyond its jurisdiction" in directing CBI probe in a matter of sale of property of deity.
Referring to a judgement delivered by a Constitution bench of the apex court, the bench said that investigation can be entrusted to CBI on satisfaction of conditions specified only in "exceptional circumstances" as laid down by the larger bench.
"Such power cannot and should not be exercised in a routine manner without examining the complexities, nature of offence and some time the tardy progress in the investigations involving high officials of the state investigating agency itself," the apex court said.
It further noted that, "The functioning in the government is by different officers and the working of the Executive has in-built checks and balances."
The bench said that the high court had issued directions without their being any complaint to local police in respect of the property of the religious trust.
It noted that the directions were issued by the high court after finding that the property of deity of the temple was transferred against the mandate of the trust deed in 1948.
The high court had passed the order while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) and held that there was no provision in the original trust deed to transfer the property of deity but with ulterior motive, new trust deed was prepared in 2005 to facilitate illegal transfer of land.
The top court, in its verdict, said, "The vesting of the property in deity is a religious endowment but has no public element in it, the grievance of which can be made in a writ petition filed in the public interest."
"We do not say any more than the fact that the high court should have refrained from entertaining such public interest litigation in respect of alleged wrongful sale of property of the religious bodies," the top court said.
Following the high court's direction, the CBI had lodged an FIR in the case.
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