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Bombay HC directs Shirdi Saibaba Trust to pay pending dues to civic body for cleanliness, sanitation of town

The trust had stopped payment of the pre-decided fee of Rs 42.51 lakh per month for cleanliness and sanitation of the town to the municipal council after the entry of devotees was suspended due to Covid restrictions in 2020.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
July 19, 2022 1:01:14 pm
shirdi saibabaA view of sanctum sanctorum of Sai Baba temple in Shirdi. (Express file)

The Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court on July 15 set aside a June 2020 decision of the ad-hoc committee of Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust which stopped payment of the pre-decided fee of Rs 42.51 lakh per month for cleanliness and sanitation of the town to the municipal council after the entry of devotees was suspended due to Covid restrictions.

The bench held that the state government is empowered to modify, annul, reverse or remit such a decision to the Sansthan Trust for reconsideration and can stay the execution of any such decision or order of the executive officer or the committee.

A division bench of Justice Ramesh D Dhanuka and Justice Sanjay G Mehrare passed a judgement in a group of petitions, including that of the Shirdi Nagar panchayat and others seeking to set aside the June 9, 2020, decision of the ad-hoc committee.

The petitioners had also sought direction to forthwith release the amount payable to the municipal council as per the April 2018 government resolution (GR) and provisions of the Shree Saibaba Sansthan Trust (Shirdi) Act, 2004.

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The petitioners claimed the Trust’s decision to be ‘arbitrary’ and contrary to the established procedure, which it was bound to abide by for five years.

On January 19, 2018, the scrutiny committee of the Trust resolved to release Rs 30 lakh per month for five years for utilisation of the civic body to carry out work of cleanliness and sanitation at Shirdi. As per a November 2018 decision of the Maharashtra government, the amount payable was increased to 42.51 lakh per month for a term of five years.

Senior advocate V D Hon said that the civic body started receiving the funds from Sansthan Trust and carried out cleanliness and sanitation activities in the interest of the public at large, including residents of Shirdi and devotees visiting the town in large numbers and the release of funds every month was stopped in May 2020.

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He added the municipal council was informed that the ad-hoc committee had decided the darshan/visitation for devotees was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and funds were not required by the petitioner and therefore the same was discontinued.

The petitioners submitted the photographs to show that due to non-payment of the funds by the Trust, the civic body was not maintaining cleanliness in Shirdi town and representations to the panel to release funds were refused, causing health issues to the residents.

The lawyer for the ad-hoc committee argued that the decision was taken due to complaints received by the Trust from members of the public alleging misappropriation of funds received by the civic body. The counsel said petitioners had an alternative remedy available to challenge the decision before the state government and therefore the pleas were not maintainable before the high court.

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After perusing submissions, the bench said: “Local residents continue to reside in the area even during the pandemic period. The petitioner (Nagar panchayat) had to continue the contract for providing its services for cleanliness and sanitation even during the pandemic period. The taxes collected by the petitioner are used for public services. The municipal council was required to carry out this obligation including the obligation to maintain cleanliness and sanitation in Shirdi town.”

The court quashed and set aside the June 2020 decision of the Trust. It also asked the Trust to pay the balance amount payable under the government decisions within four weeks.

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First published on: 19-07-2022 at 01:01:14 pm

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