Thiruvananthapuram: Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that the Sabarimala tantri was only an employee of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and would, therefore, be subject to the disciplinary action of the Board. The minister, however, made it clear that the tantri was not under government control.
During Question Hour in the Assembly on Thursday, the minister said that the rights and authorities of the tantri had been laid down in the fourth chapter of the TDB manual. “A tantri could either be from a family traditionally engaged in 'tantrik' work or he could be appointed by the TDB. The manual clearly states that the tantri will function under the control of the TDB,” the minister said and added: “This makes it clear that the TDB can take disciplinary action against the tantri.”
The minister's explanation came close on the heels of his statement that the Devaswom commissioner had sought an explanation from tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru on November 6 for seeking advice from a political leader on shutting the temple if women entered the hill shrine. (BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai had earlier claimed during a meeting of Yuva Morcha leaders in Kozhikode that he had assured the tantri that shutting down the temple if there was a violation of custom would not invite contempt of court.)
The devaswom minister said that the commissioner could act on his own and it was not necessary for the Board to convene a meeting and take a decision. “The Board is now verifying the response of the tantri, and an appropriate decision will be taken at the right time,” Kadakampally said.
The minister further said that the TDB was an autonomous body and the government had never imposed its will on it. Ever since the Sabrimala agitation had begun, the opposition had charged the government with arm-twisting the Board. “The Board has now given a petition in the Supreme Court seeking more time to implement its order. Couldn't the Board have done this earlier,” independent MLA P C George asked in the Assembly.
“The affidavits given by the TDB in the issue were filed on the basis of its independent thinking. Never has the government interfered in its functioning,” the minister replied. He said that even when the tantri and the erstwhile Pandalam royals told the chief minister that the government should seek more time from the Supreme Court, the chief minister told them specifically that it was not an issue that he could decide. “He told them he will not encroach into the rights of the Board,” Kadakampally said.
However, the minister refused to respond to a poser by Muslim League leader M K Muneer on Sabarimala. “Now that the Board had sought more time, why can't the government tell the court that it should take the opinion of a body of learned men before making up its mind on Sabarimala? You will only be emphasising what you had already stated in your affidavit,” Muneer said.