Reversing the 2011 Kerala High Court decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Travancore royal family to manage the property of deity at Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. The court said that, as per customary law, the shebait rights (right to manage the financial affairs of the deity) survive with the members of the family even after the death of the last ruler.
The ruling ends the legal battle the temple and members of the royal family have fought with the government for decades over control of one of the richest temples in the world.
What is the case about?
- The central legal question was whether Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the younger brother of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last Ruler of Travancore, could claim to be the “Ruler of Travancore” after the death of the ruler in 1991.
- The court examined this claim within the limited meaning of that term according to the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950 to claim ownership, control and management of the ancient Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple.
Who had the ownership, control and management of the Padmanabhaswamy temple before 1991?
- All the temples which were under the control and management of the erstwhile Princely States of Travancore and Cochin were under the control of the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards before 1947.
- However, as per the Instrument of Accession signed between the princely states and the Government of India, since 1949, the administration of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was “vested in trust” in the Ruler of Travancore. The state of Kerala was carved out in 1956 but the temple continued to be managed by the erstwhile royals.
- In 1971, privy purses to the former royals were abolished through a constitutional amendment stripping their entitlements and privileges. The move was upheld in court in 1993 and the last ruler of Travancore who died during the pendency of this case continued to manage the affairs of the temple till then.
- In 1991, when the last ruler’s brother took over the temple management, it created a furore among devotees who moved the courts leading to a long-drawn legal battle. The government joined in; supporting the claims of the petitioner that Marthanda Varma had no legal right to claim the control or management of the temple.
Is the temple the property of the royal family?
No. The character of the temple was always recognised as a public institution governed by a statute. The argument of the royal family is that the temple management would vest with them for perpetuity, as per custom. Even though the last ruler Balarama Varma executed a detailed will bequeathing his personal properties, he had not included the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as his personal property or dealt with it in his will.
What about the Padmanabhaswamy temple’s property, including the riches in the vaults?
- A consequence of who has administrative rights over the temple is whether the vaults of the temple will be opened. In 2007, Marthanda Varma claimed that the treasures of the temple were the family property of the royals. Several suits were filed objecting to this claim and a lower court in Kerala passed an injunction against the opening of the vaults.
- The Kerala High Court in the 2011 ruling passed an order that a board be constituted to manage the affairs of the temple, ruling against the royal family. The appeal against this verdict was filed by the royal family immediately and the SC had stayed the HC verdict.
- By appointing two amicus curiae- senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam and former Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai to prepare an inventory of items in the vaults. While five vaults were opened of the six, vault B was not opened. The royal family had claimed that a mythical curse is associated with the opening of vault B.
What impact would this ruling have?
- Since 2011, the process of opening the vaults has led to the discovery of treasures within the Padmanabhaswamy temple, prompting a debate on who owns temple property and how it should be regulated.
- Despite being a secular country that separates religion from the affairs of the state, Hindu temples, its assets are governed through statutory laws and boards heavily controlled by state governments. This system came into being mainly through the development of a legal framework to outlaw untouchability by treating temples as public land; it has resulted in many legal battles.
About Padmanabhaswamy Temple –
- The Padmanabhaswamy temple is heavily influenced by the Dravidian style of architecture, which is why it resembles a lot of the temples in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu with its tall gopuram and high walls and intricate carvings.
- Vishnu is the presiding deity of the Padmanabhaswamy temple and is also the ‘ruler’ of Travancore. He was ‘crowned’ as the Emperor of Travancore in the 18th century and members of the royal family rule as regents on his behalf. Which is also why the royal crown of Travancore has been preserved inside the temple.
- Celebrated once every six years in January, the Laksha Deepam festival is the biggest festival of the Padmanabhaswamy temple. The festival gets its name from the lighting of a hundred thousand (one lakh or Laksha) lamps inside the temple and its premises. Held on the day of Makar Sankranti, the festival marks the end of 12 Bhadradeepams, a seven-day ritual that is held twice every year. On the day images of Padmanabha, Narasimha and Krishna are taken out on Garudavahana (Vishnu’s mythical eagle) in a grand procession.
- An image of Padmanabha or Vishnu reclining on the serpent Anantha or Adi Sesha is the centre of the Padmanabhaswamy temple. With his right hand placed over a Shiva lingam, Vishnu is flanked by Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and Bhudevi, the goddess of Earth. Bramha is shown to emanate from Vishnu’s navel. Interestingly, the image of Vishnu is made out of 12,000 shaligrams or fossilized shells that can be traced back to the banks of Nepal’s Gandaki River.
- In 2011 a treasure was revealed from its cellars. The treasure was valued $1 trillion at the time of its discovery making the Padmanabhaswamy Temple the richest in the world. To put this into perspective, the entire Mughal treasury at the zenith of its power could be valued at $90 billion.
Recently, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu released a book titled Tangams: An Ethnolinguistic Study Of The Critically Endangered Group of Arunachal Pradesh. “Language loss is the reason for cultural erosion,” CM Khandu had said, emphasising how the book will help the future generations of the Tangam community, which has reportedly 253 speakers concentrated in one small hamlet of Arunachal Pradesh.
Who are Tangams?
- The Tangams are a little-known community within the larger Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh and reside in the hamlet of Kugging in Upper Siang district’s Paindem circle.
- As per the UNESCO World Atlas of Endangered Languages (2009), Tangam — an oral language that belongs to the Tani group, under the greater Tibeto-Burman language family — is marked ‘critically endangered’.
- Kugging is surrounded by a number of villages inhabited by Adi subgroups such as Shimong, Minyongs, as well as the Buddhist tribal community of Khambas, among others. To communicate with their neighbours over the years, the Tangams have become multilingual, speaking not just Tangam, but other tongues such as Shimong, Khamba and Hindi.
- They rarely speak their own language now since their population is restricted to a single village. Their neighbours are various Adi subgroups, so they have picked up other Adi languages and their own is slowly disappearing — even if a few still continue to speak Tangam.
Russia COVID-19 vaccine
Like all the other potential candidates, one being developed in Russia is also far from being ready at this point. Numerous reports have recently claimed that clinical trials for a Russian vaccine had been ‘successfully’ completed. What these reports did not specifically mention is that only phase-I of the clinical trials had been completed. Phase-II trials are supposed to start now, while there is no clarity over phase-III trials.
Vaccine development in Russia –
There is only one candidate vaccine being developed in Russia which has reached the human clinical trial stage. That candidate, being developed by the Gamalei National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology, in partnership with the Russian Defence Ministry, had begun phase-I human trials on June 18, with 18 volunteers from the armed forces having been chosen for administering the vaccine.
Development phases of vaccine –
- “Efficiency and immunogenicity (generation of immune response)” is tested in phase two of trials. It is in this stage that researchers try to see whether the vaccine is triggering the desired immune response in human beings, and what could be the suitable doses to generate this response.
- Vaccine development usually involve a third phase as well. In fact, no vaccine for large-scale use has been approved without the third phase of trials till now. Large number of volunteers, usually numbering several thousands, are enrolled for the third phase in which researchers try to ascertain whether the immune response triggered by the vaccine is able to fight the virus in real life situations. This process could take several months.
- In the case of Russian candidate vaccine, as with any other candidate, the success of phase-II trials, which could take at least couple of months, is not guaranteed. The success can only be ascertained after the completion of the trials.
A long road ahead –
Even after the successful completion of phase-III, it usually takes several months before a vaccine is accessible to a general public. Several rounds of regulatory and administrative approvals are required. That is why several scientists, and even WHO officials, have been maintaining that it would be take at least 12-18 months before any Coronavirus vaccine is able to hit the market.
Green Railways by 2030
Ministry of Railways, with a goal of transforming Indian Railways into Green Railways by 2030 has taken a number of major initiatives towards mitigation of global warming and combating climate change.
Railway Electrification, improving energy efficiency of locomotives & trains and fixed installations, green certification for installations/stations, fitting bio toilets in coaches and switching to renewable sources of energy are parts of its strategy of achieving net zero carbon emission.
Major initiatives –
- Electrification – Indian Railways has completed electrification of more than 40,000 Route km (RKM) (63% of BG routes) in which 18,605 km electrification work has been done during 2014-20. Previously, only 3,835 km electrification work was completed during the period 2009-14. Indian Railways has fixed a target of electrification of 7000 RKM for the year 2020-21.
- Solar energy – Indian Railways has also taken a number of initiatives to promote solar energy. Indian Railways is working to harness the potential of 500 Mega Watt (MW) energy through roof top Solar panels (Developer model). Till date, 100 Mega Watt (MW) of solar plants have been commissioned on roof-tops of various buildings including 900 stations. Solar plants with a combined capacity of 400 MW are under different stages of execution. Besides this, Indian Railways is trying to produce power from land Based Solar installations for running trains. Indian Railway has 51,000 hectare of land potential of installing 20 GW land based solar plants.
- Wind energy – In the wind energy sector, 103 MW wind-based power plants have already been commissioned. Among them, 26 MW is in Rajasthan (Jaisalmer), 21 MW is in Tamil Nadu and 56.4 MW is in Maharashtra (Sangli). Indian Railways has also planned to set up 200 MW wind energy plants in next 2 years in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
- Other initiatives – Realising its role in climate change Indian Railways has started other Green Initiatives like 100 per cent LED illumination of buildings and stations. Indian Railways has also acquired Green Certification from CIII to 7 Production Units (PUs), 39 Workshops, 6 Diesel sheds and 1 Stores depot. In the field of Green Initiatives a total of 69,000 coaches have been fitted with more than 2,44,000 bio-toilets in Indian Railways.
C/2020 F3 Neowise
The recently discovered comet called C/2020 F3, also known as NEOWISE after the NASA telescope discovered it, will make its closest approach to the Earth on July 22. On the day, the comet, which takes 6,800 years to complete one lap around its orbit, will be at a distance of 64 million miles or 103 million kilometers while crossing Earth’s outside orbit.
What are comets?
- Comets or “dirty snowballs” are mostly made of dust, rocks and ice, the remnants from time the solar system was formed over 4.6 billion years ago. In the distant past, people thought of comets as “long-haired” stars that would appear unpredictably in the sky.
- In fact, Chinese astronomers kept extensive records of these comets for centuries, including the time of their appearance, disappearance and their celestial positions, NASA says. The word comet comes from the Latin word “Cometa” which means “long-haired” and the earliest known record of a comet sighting was made by an astrologer in 1059 BC.
- Comets can range in their width from a few miles to tens of miles wide. As they orbit closer to the sun, like in the case of C/2020 F3, they heat up and release debris of dust and gases that forms into a “glowing head” that can often be larger than a planet.
- The debris forms a tail that can stretch out to millions of miles. Each time a comet passes the sun, it loses some of its material and it will eventually disappear completely as a result.
Important terminological differences –
- Comet: A body of ice, rock and dust that can be several miles in diameter and orbits the sun. Debris from comets is the source of many meteoroids.
- Meteoroid: A small rocky or metal object, usually between the size of a grain of sand or a boulder, that orbits the sun. It originates from a comet or asteroid.
- Meteor: A meteoroid that enters the earth’s atmosphere and vaporises. Also called a “shooting star.”
- Meteorite: A meteor that hits Earth without burning up in the atmosphere i.e. it reaches the Earth’s surface.
- Meteor shower: A collection of meteors visible when Earth passes through a trail of debris left by a comet.
- Asteroid: An object larger than a meteoroid that orbits the sun and is made of rock or metal. Historically, objects larger than 10 meters across have been called asteroids.
The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to access the centralised online database on FIRs and stolen vehicles.
- At present, security agencies directly contact an airline or a telephone company if they are on a suspect’s trail. The data is shared through international servers. The NATGRID will ensure that such information is shared through a secure platform.
- The MoU between the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to access the centralised online database on FIRs and stolen vehicles, will enable the NATGRID get information about details of a suspect as mentioned in the FIR such as his/her father’s name, telephone number and other details
About NATGRID –
- The office of NATGRID is attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- Initiated at a budget of Rs 2,800 crores, it is the integrated intelligence framework connecting the databases of security agencies of the Government of India to gather inclusive patterns of intelligence that can be accessed by intelligence agencies.
- It is a counter terrorism measure involved in collecting and collating a host of information from government databases including credit card transactions, tax details, bank account details, visa, immigration records and itineraries of air and rail travel.
- The combined data shall be accessible by the central agencies namely the Directorate General of Central Excise Intelligence, Central Board of Excise and Customs, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Financial intelligence unit, Central Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing.
- Unlike the central organisations like NCTC and the NIA, the NATGRID is necessarily a tool that enables security agencies to detect and collect relevant information on terror suspects from database pooled from various different organisations and services in the country. It will help in the identification, capture, and prosecution of terrorists and help preempt terrorist plots.
- NATGRID also helps the police and the Intelligence Bureau keep a tab on persons with suspicious backgrounds. The police would have access to all the data related to that person and any movement by this person would also be tracked with the help of the database. A pattern search and recognition system helps in reducing human rights violations while extracting information.