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Religious and Charitable Endowments under Hindu Law

Amongst the religious and charitable endowments, hospitals, schools, univerisaties alms houses (for distribution of food to Brahmanas or poor), establishment of idols etc., are included. According to Raghvachariar an endowment is referred to as the setting apart of property for religious and charitable purposes in which there is a Karta and a specific thing which can be ascertained. A disposition in India to be a public trust must be made with the purpose of advancement of either religion, knowledge, commerce, health, safety or other objects beneficial to the mankind.

Different Kinds of Endowments

Endowments are of different kinds which can be placed in different categories in the following manner—

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(a) Public or private; (b) Real or apparent; (c) Absolute or partial; (d) Religious or charitable; (e) Valid or invalid.

Public and Private Endowment:

In order to ascertain the nature of the endowment as to whether it is public or private the subsequent conduct of the settler and use of the evidence of the property set apart by the public at large are to be considered. In fact when a temple is thrown open for public at large for worship, a valid inference can be drawn that a public trust has been intended to have been created. Where the outsiders along with the members of the family of the settler take part in worship in celebration of festivals in a temple as in public temples, the state of affairs point out to the public nature of the endowment.

In contrast private endowment is that in which the public has no ingress, as an endowment for the worship of the family deity of the settler. Where the property is kept separate safely for the worship of family deity by family members only, with which the public has nothing to do, it is a private endowment.

Even if other Hindu worshippers are allowed to worship a family deity, it will not confer public nature to the endowment. In Venugopalaswamy v. H. R.E. Board, it was laid down that where the temple was initially set apart for the use of the family members only and subsequently if some outsiders are allowed ingress therein, it will not automatically alter the private nature to public.

The Madras High Court too in Keshav Gounder v. D.C. Rajan, held that there is very minute difference between the public and private endowment. In public endowment the interest of general public or of a group of persons is protected and involved, wherein in private endowment the interest of the settler of the trust or his family members only is protected and involved. In fact in private trust the interest is to dedicate pleasurly to the family diety something and the public has nothing to do with it.

Again the Supreme Court in G.S. Kaha Lakshmi v. Shah Ranchod Das, said that the temple of Sri Gokulnath Nadeyad in a public temple and the trust created is of public nature dedicated and created by the Ballabh cult and its supporters of Nadiad. The fact that any individual could enter into the temple only after the worshipping by goswami is over, does not militate in any way the public nature of the temple. Further the fact that temple is having house like appearance does not clearly establish that the temple is not a public temple.

The Supreme Court has delivered an important judgment after a lapse of a decade in Radha Kant Deo v. The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Charitables. The Court observed that a religious endowment of private nature cannot be conceived under English law. It can only be thought of in Hindu law. The court laid down the following test to determine the public and private nature of endowment—

(1) Where the origin of endowment cannot be ascertained, the question to be determined is as to whether the members of public use it by way of right.

(2) Another fact to be determined is that whether it is controlled by a group of persons or by the founder of endowment only.

(3) It may be concluded that the endowment is of public nature where the document with respect to its creation is available and it is clear from the language of the deed that the control over the endowment is vested in the founder or in his family and a greater part of the property of the founder has been dedicated in the endowment to that temple.

(4) Again in absence of any evidence to show that the founder has given any classification with respect to the fact that the member of public would contribute any share to it, this itself proves that the endowment is of private nature.

The Allahabad High Court too in Suit. Sarjoo v. Ayodhya Pd., founded the view that it is not possible to conclude about the nature of endowment from a single characteristic alone. In fact the entire evidence and circumstances are to be examined under which it was created. Non-appointment of a pujari shows the private nature; but appointment of pujari by members of different families establish the public nature.

Even giving permission to the members of public to perform puja will not convert it into public. In Radha Kant Deo v. The Commissioner of Hindu Religious Charitables, the Supreme Court took the view that the idea of a private religious trust could be conceived in Hindu law only and is foreign to the English law.

In such an endowment the prime purpose of the beneficiary is to establish a temple for the family worshippers. Though public may be allowed access to such a temple but that will not convert its nature as the property in facts vests with the beneficiaries and not with the diety. Certain worth mentioning tests were formulated by the court which are as under—

(1) Where the origin of endowment is not known, the question arises as to whether members of public use it by way of right.

(2) The fact whether it is controlled by a group of persons or by the founder of endowment will also be considered.

(3) Where the documentary evidence is available which clearly establishes that the control invested in the founder or in his family and a greater part has been dedicated to the temple, so that it may be properly managed, it all will suggest that the endowment is of a private nature.

(4) Again in absence of any proof available to show that the founder intended the public to contribute any share to it, it will be treated as a private endowment.

Charitable Endowments:

Where the gifts are made for charitable purposes such as for the institution of Dharmashala, Anathashram (choultries), Sadavratas of the establishment of educational and medical institutions or/and for the construction of Anathashrams (orphanage) tanks, wells and bathing ghats etc., they are known as charitable endowments. In such endowments property is dedicated through the usual ceremonies of Sankalpa and Utsarga.

The popular charitable institutions created through endowments and recognised under the Hindu law are Dharmashala or rest houses, Sadavrats Anathashram, public institutions, constructions of tanks, wells, groves etc. Dharmashalas are the rest houses provided for the travellers known as Pratishraya Griha in ancient times.

The property dedicated to the Dharmashalas vest in Dharmashalas itself. Its management may vest in the founder himself or a committee constituted by the founder. The benefit of Dharmashala may be available to public in general or it may be restricted to the members of a community or to the follower’s of a particular religion.

Sometimes gifts are made for the establishment of educational institutions or hospitals. Imparting free education to the people in general has been one of the prime objects of charity throughout the ages amongst Hindus. Similarly hospitals and dispensaries known as Arogashalas have also been the objects of charitable endowments.

The establishment and maintenance of Goshalas is also a valid charitable purpose. Similarly the excavation of tanks and wells has also been recognised as charitable objects from the very beginning. According to Dharmashastra, construction of a well is equal to Agnistoma sacrifice; in desert it equals the Aswamedha. The well flowing with drinking water destroys all sins. The well maker, attaining heaven, enjoys all the worldly pleasures. The consecration of trees and groves is also a well recognised charible purpose amongst Hindus. Dedications for groves and trees have been held valid.

Similarly Sadavrats, where free distribution of food and alms to the needy and poor are arranged, have been well known charitable institutions amongst Hindus. Langars and Anathashram are species of Sadavrats. Endowments for them have been held valid. Similarly endowments for reciting sacred books and for the food and maintenance of Brahmacharies and Brahamans have also been held valid.

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