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Temples not commercial establishments: HC

Declaring that a temple is not a “commercial establishment” and does not come within the meaning of an “establishment” under provisions of the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments (KS&CE) Act, 1961, the Karnataka High Court has held that employees of a temple in Karnataka are not entitled to gratuity under Payments of Gratuity (PG) Act, 1972.

The court said the employees are entitled to gratuity under provisions of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowment (KHRI&CE) Act, 1997, and not under the PG Act, 1972, as the the Union government has not notified temples as an “establishment” under this law, and the State government too has not notified temples as an “establishment” under provisions of the KS&CE Act, 1961.

A three-judge bench comprising Justice B.V. Nagarathna, Justice K.N. Phaneendra and Justice B.A. Patil delivered the verdict on August 1 while partly allowing an appeal by Shri Mookambika Temple, Kolluru. The temple had questioned the orders, passed by labour authorities in 2011-12 to pay gratuity of ₹2.91 lakh with 10% interest under the PG Act, 1972 to an employee, Raviraja Shetty, who was relived from work on attaining superannuation in 2005.

The bench also set aside a 2012 verdict of a division bench in the case of the management of Sri Venkataramana temple and Sri Hale Mariyamma temple, Kaup in Udupi district, which had said that employees of temples are entitled to gratuity under the PG, 1972 while relying on a Odisha High Court judgement in a case pertaining to the Sri Jagannatha temple.

The three-judge bench pointed out that the Odisha HC’s verdict is not applicable to Karnataka as Odisha’s law on shops and establishments included a “temple trust” under “establishments” unlike the KS&CE Act, 1961.

Observing that “a temple is a place of religious worship or meant for a religious purpose which includes worship of deities or worship in temples, mandirs, shrines, samadhis, brindavanas, gadduges or similar places installing shrines, samadhis, brindavanas, gadduges or similar places fostering spiritual fraternity, imparting spiritual, moral and religious education and teaching of philosophy, observance of religious festivals and any other public religious purpose,” the three-judge bench said that “a temple cannot be any stretch of imagination be construed as an establishment” under KS&CE Act, 1961.

The three-judge bench also held that the KHRI&CE Act, 1997, being a special enactment and had received the President’s nod, prevails over the PG Act, 1972, which is a general enactment, in the matter of payment of gratuity to employees of temples in Karnataka. The bench directed the temple to pay gratuity as per KHRI&CE Act, 1997 to Mr. Shetty within four weeks.

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