The Supreme Court has stayed the Kerala High Court order which held that the power of appointment to the post of Commissioner of Travancore Devaswom Board vests with the Devaswom and not with the State Government.
State of Kerala had approached the Apex court against the order passed by the Division bench of Kerala High Court. The bench comprising Justice R. Banumathi and Justice R. Subhash Reddy, after hearing Senior Advocate Harin P. Ravel, who appeared for the state, ordered thus:
“There shall be an interim stay of the impugned order(s) until further orders. Insofar as the post of Devaswom Commissioner is concerned, status quo as on date to be continued, until further orders from this Court.”
Govt. Cant Appoint Devaswom Commissioner, Kerala HC had held
As the tenure of the present Commissioner, N.Vasu was coming to and in January, the High Court had directed the Government to identify suitable and competent hands and submit a panel of three such persons to the Devaswom Board and shall submit a report in this regard for pursuing further steps.
The Government, then filed a review petition contending that it is for the Government to depute an Additional Secretary; there cannot be any direction to submit a panel of three officers to the Devaswom Board and to permit the Devaswom Board to identify a person of their choice; and hence it is for the Government to identify and appoint a person.
While dismissing the review petition, the bench comprising Justice PR Ramachandra Menon and Justice N. Anil Kumar had made these observations:

  • Section 13B of the Act has already been extracted in the interim order dated 31.01.2019. The provision is crystal-clear, to the effect that the power of appointment is vested with the Board. The mode of recruitment alone is stated in the two different limbs; firstly by promoting a qualified Deputy Commissioner in the service of the Devaswom Board and in the absence of qualified officer, by deputation of an officer not below the rank of an Additional Secretary to Government in the service of the Government.
  • The absence of any qualified hand in the Devaswom does not transmit the power of appointment of the Commissioner from the Devaswom Board to the State Government. The role of the State Government is only to spare the service of an Additional Secretary to be appointed on deputation, once a requisition is made by the Devaswom Board. If the person so deputed by the Government is found as not acceptable, (if he is having tainted track record in some or other manner, detrimental to the rights and interests of the Deity and the Devaswom), it is quite open for the Devaswom Board to bring it to the notice of the Government without appointing the said person and seek for another candidate.
  • If the version of the Government, that Government can identify the person and will depute the person, who shall be appointed by the Devaswom Board is accepted, it may be quite possible for the Government to identify a person (a Non-Hindu) working as Addl.Secretary as well and depute him to be appointed as the Commissioner. This definitely will be contrary to the Scheme of the Statute and hence cannot be entertained
  • The power of appointment vested with the Devaswom does never get automatically transferred to the Government, for identifying a person of their choice, even compromising with the rights and interests of the Devaswom, to be appointed as the Commissioner. The Government cannot say or insist that the Devaswom will have to be satisfied with the person identified or nominated by the Government. It is always open for the Devaswom to refuse to appoint the person nominated by the Government, if he is having a blemished track record or if he is otherwise not suitable to be appointed for meeting the responsibilities of the Commissioner, to be discharged under the statute, protecting the larger interests of the Deity and Devotees.

As a stop gap arrangement, the bench had ordered to give charge of the Commissioner to an officer named M. Harshan, working as Addl.Secretary of the Revenue Devaswom Department, on expiry of extended tenure of N. Vasu.