The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a massive judicial audit of all religious places in the country, the Times of India has reported.
The audit exercise will focus on areas such as hygiene, access to devotees, financial accounts and assets, the report says, adding that all temples, mosques, churches and other religious and charitable institutions will be covered.
"Difficulties faced by visitors, deficiencies in management, maintenance of hygiene, appropriate utilisation of offerings and protection of assets with regard to shrines, irrespective of religion, is a matter for consideration not only for the state government and the central government but also courts," a bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel (now retired) and S Abdul Nazeer had said last month.
According to the report, district magistrates will submit reports for areas under their jurisdiction. These reports can be treated as Public Interest Litigations (PILs), if required, and will form the basis for High Courts to pass orders.
This order was reportedly passed when the court was hearing a petition related to the Puri Jagannath Temple. While hearing the petition, the court expanded the scope of the PIL to cover all religious places.
"We direct that if any devotee moves the jurisdictional district judge throughout India with any grievance on the above aspect, the district judge may either himself/herself, or by assigning the issue to any other court under his/her jurisdiction, examine the above aspects and if necessary send a report to the high court. We have no doubt that the HC will consider these aspects in public interest in accordance with the law and issue such directions as necessary having regard to individual factual situation," the SC has said in the case.
The apex court posted the matter for further hearing on 5 September.
This suo moto initiative of the Supreme Court is likely to prove a huge strain on the judiciary, already stretched due to nearly three crore pending cases in courts around the country and hamstrung by a large number of vacancies.
The Times of India report says that India has around 20 lakh major temples, three lakh prominent mosques, and thousands of Churches and Gurudwaras.
Another problem could be the absence of recognised rules governing many religious shrines in the country, especially the smaller ones.