(2016) 43 SCD 217 - Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust Vs. R. Ramanathan [Public Charities]
- 1 The facts
- 2 Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure
- 3 Plaint filed by the respondents
- 4 Order of the Trial Court
- 5 Decision of the High Court
- 6 Discussion and findings
- 7 Conclusion
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. Unfortunately, the feelings (if not the animosity) between the parties have run so high that any meaningful discussion between them to sort out the pending issues has been ruled out. When feelings are strong (and get further hardened over time) and tempers are high, there is a loss of balance and equilibrium. It is unfortunate that this state of mind has persisted with both parties who are well educated and perhaps have a philosophical and spiritual bent of mind, being trustees and residents of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and followers of Sri Aurobindo.
3. On our part, we attempted to amicably sort out the problem between the parties, but one of them refused to appreciate the meaning of ‘dissociation’ while the otherexpressed the view that mere dissociation was not enough and there must be condemnation! At the end of the day, we felt that each party wanted to score a brownie point over the other, little realizing that while they would be left with some ephemeral brownie points, the brownies (and the cream) would be shared by somebody else. 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.1
1 Vidyodaya Trust v. Mohan Prasad R, (2008) 4 SCC 115
Subsequently renumbered as O.S. No.15/2011
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. Most problems have a positive solution and a concerted effort must be made by all concerned to find that solution of least resistance to the problem. This is not only in the interest of the parties involved but also in the larger interest of the justice delivery system.
5. The respondents are residents of or are otherwise concerned with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. They filed a civil suit being O.S. No. 15/20102 before the District Judge, Pondicherry under the provisions of
(hereinafter referred to as the ‘CPC’).3
It was prayed therein that appellants 2 to 6 who are the trustees in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (appellant No. 1 and hereinafter referred to as ‘the Trust’) be removed and new trustees be appointed since these appellants have failed the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. A prayer was also made for settling a scheme for the administration of the Trust.
6. The averments made in the plaint principally pertain to a book titled “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” written by one Peter Heehs and the fall out thereafter. The book purports to be a biography of Sri Aurobindo and was published in May 2008 by Columbia University Press in the United States. For convenience, and for no other reason, this book is hereafter referred to as the book or the objectionable book.
7. The respondents summarized their grievances in paragraph 2 of the plaint and the relevant portion thereof reads as follows:- [...]
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.
35. We were invited to express a view on the constitutional freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. It is not at all necessary for us to do so. The Orissa High Court might be called upon to do so, depending on the views of the contesting parties, one of whom we were told, is the author of the objectionable book. We express no opinion on the issue and leave the matter at that.
36. This being our conclusion with regard to the first grievance of the respondents, their second grievance is rather premature. It would arise only if and when appropriate directions are issued by the Orissa High Court in the pending litigation.
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.