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Judgement: SAAT & Ors. Vs. R. Ramanathan & Ors.

January 21, 2016

We have obtained a copy of the Judgement of the Scheme Suit under Section 92 of the CPC that was filed by R. Ramanathan & Others, where the “Others” consist of anti-Ashram elements like Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, R.Y. Deshpande and several trouble-makers even though they may not have been technically party to the case. The copy of the Judgement can be viewed by clicking on the following link: Judgement: SAAT & Ors. Vs. R. Ramanathan & Ors.

As the judgement is 16 pages long we reproduce here some of the salient points of the judgement which we believe summarize and exemplify the position of the Supreme Court of India on this matter:

1.    Leave granted.

2.    The dispute that has arisen in this appeal is one that could have and ought to have been settled in the first instance in the Trial Court…

3.    …In  another decision altogether, this Court had occasion to remark that public trusts for charitable and religious purpose are run for the benefit of the  public. No individual should take benefit from them. If the persons in management of the trusts are subjected to multiplicity of legal proceedings, funds which are to be used for charitable or religious purposes would be wasted on litigation…

4.    It is time for all of us, litigants, lawyers and judges to  introspect and decide whether a litigation being pursued is really worth the while and alternatively whether an amicable  dispute resolution mechanism could be availed of to settle the dispute to the satisfaction of the litigants…

Points 5 to 28 describe the history of the controversy around Peter Heehs’ book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” as well as of the case till it appeared before the Supreme Court.

Points 29 to 33 discuss the legal aspects of the case.

34.   The High Court has effectively faulted the appellants [SAAT] for not making the first strike to secure a ban on the objectionable book. This is really a question of the degree of reaction to the objectionable book on which we would not like to comment… But the question is whether the mild reaction is perverse or could in any way be held to be a breach of trust or an absence of effective administration of the Trust warranting the removal of the trustees. We do not think so. Failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust. It might be an omission of the exercise of proper discretion on the part of the trustees, but certainly not an omission touching upon the administration of the Trust. We are not in agreement with the High Court that the failure of the appellants to take the initiative in banning the objectionable book gives rise to  a  cause of action for the removal of the trustees of the Trust and settling a scheme for its administration. The trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the  administration of a trust. A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse. In our opinion, the High Court ought to have allowed the application filed by the appellants for the revocation of leave granted to the respondents to initiate proceedings under Section 92 of the CPC, in the facts of this case.

Conclusion

37.   We find merit in the appeal and accordingly set aside the impugned judgment and order of the High Court and allow the application filed by the appellants for revocation of leave. The parties are left to bear their own costs and once again consider an amicable settlement of their dispute.

Editor’s note: highlights have been added.

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– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

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