Home > serious posts > S.P. MITTAL ETC. ETC. Vs. UNION OF INDIA AND OTHERS (1982)


On their page titled “Attempts to create an ‘Aurobindonian religion’,” Auro Truths refer to the judgement of the Supreme Court of India, S.P. Mittal Etc. Etc. vs. Union of India, 1982, which established that Sri Aurobindo’s and The Mother’s ideals, teachings, and the institutions they have founded do not belong to any religion or religious institution. We reproduce here the judgement in its entirety.



Date of Judgement: 08/11/1982


Right to freedom of religion and to manage religious affairs-Constitution of India, 1950 Articles 25 and 26-Shri Aurobindo’s teachings cannot be said to be of a religious nature-Aurobindo Society and the Auroville township do not fall within the meaning of religious denomination so as to be violative of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. Words & Phrases-‘Religion’ and ‘Religious denomination’ explained.

Auroville (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1980 (Act LIX of 1980) Preamble-Parliamentary competency to enact the Act- Whether inconsistent and in conflict with the provisions of the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961 (Act XXVI of 1961) Sections 22 & 23 containing in built self-contained provisions for dealing with the management of the registered societies-Constitution of India 1950 Article 245, Schedule VII, List I Entry 32-Functions of the Lists, Explained.

Auroville (Emergency Provisions) Act 1980 providing for taking over the management only of Auroville township and its activities for a limited period is not violative either of Article 14, Articles 25 and 26 or Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution.


Sri Aurobindo, one of the Indian sages and philosphers, after a brilliant academic and administrative career engaged himself for sometime in political activities and revolutionary literary efforts, but later on gave them up to concentrate himself with the life of medition and integral yoga at Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu. Madam M. Alfassa a French Lady, who came to be known as the Mother became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. Very soon more and more disciples came to join him from various parts of India and abroad and thus the Aurobindo Ashram came into being. The disciples and devoted followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, with a view to propagate and practise the ideals and beliefs of Sri Aurobindo formed a Society called Sri Aurobindo Society in the year 1960, which at all material times was and is still a society duly registered under the provisions of the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961. This Society is completely distinct from Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. The Society was established and registered for the purpose of carrying out in and out side India the several objects stated in the memorandum of the Society.

The management of the Society vested in its Executive Committee. Rules and regulations have been duly framed for the management of the Society and also for safe custody and protection of its assets, properties and funds.

Sri Aurobindo Society preaches and propagates the ideals and teachings of Sri Aurobindo, inter alia, through its numerous centres scattered throughout India by way of weekly meetings of its members.

The Mother as the founder-president also conceived of a project of setting up a cultural township known as ‘Auroville’ where people of different countries are expected to engage in cultural, educational and scientific and other pursuits aiming at human unity. The Society has been a channel of funds for setting up the cultural township known as Auroville.

At the initiative of the Government of India, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation being of the opinion that the Auroville project would contribute to international understanding and promotion of peace sponsored the project by proposing a resolution to this effect at its General Conference in 1966. This resolution was unanimously adopted at this conference. By a further resolution passed in 1968 the UNESCO invited its member States and international non-governmental organisations to participate in the development of Auroville as an international cultural township to bring together the values of different cultures and civilisations in harmonious environment with integrated living standards, which corresponds to man’s physical and spiritual needs. In 1970 UNESCO had directed its Director-General to take such steps as may be feasible, within the budgetary provisions to promote the development of Auroville as an important international cultural programme. Sri Aurobindo Society received large funds in the shape of grants from different organisations in India and abroad for development of that township. The assistance included contributions from the State Governments of the value of Rs. 66.50 lakhs and the Central Government of the value of Rs. 26.14 lakhs.

After the death of the Mother on 17th of November, 1973 a number of problems of varying nature affecting the smooth running of the project cropped up. The Government of India on receiving complaints about mismanagement of the project and misuse of funds by Sri Aurobindo Society set up a committee under the chairmanship of the Governor of Pondicherry with representatives of the Government of Tamil Nadu and of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Central Government to look into the matter. The Committee made a detailed scrutiny of the accounts of Sri Aurobindo Society relating to Auroville and found instances of serious irregularities in the management of the Society, mis- utilisation of its funds and their diversion to other purposes. Further, various other serious difficulties had arisen plaguing the Management of Auroville and rendering thereby any further growth of the township almost impossible. In the circumstances the taking over of the management of Auroville became imperative to ensure growth of the township in tune with its objectives.

Keeping in view the international character of the project and considering the government’s involvement in actively sponsoring the project through UNESCO, the growth and management of the project had become the primary responsibility of the Government of India. The ideals of the project formed India’s highest aspirations, which could not be allowed to be defeated or frustrated. Sri Aurobindo society had lost complete control over the situation and the members of the Auroville approached the Government of India to give protection against oppression and victimisation at the hands of the said Society. There were internal quarrels between the various factions of Sri Aurobindo Society. There have also been instances of law and order situation. Financial management of the projects has not been sound and several instances of mismanagement, diversion of funds have been revealed. A large sum of money was given by Sri Aurobindo Society to AURO construction-an agency whose status. is not at all defined, whose functions and capabilities for taking up large construction works also had not been made known. The Government in the circumstances could not be a silent spectator to the mismanagement of the project and internecine quarrels amongst its members, which if not checked could lead to the destruction of the project so nobly conceived. The Government, therefore, decided to issue a Presidential Ordinance. After the filing of the writ petition the ordinance has now been replaced by the Auroville (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1980.

The constitutional validity of the Act has been challenged on four grounds: (i) Parliament has no legislative competence to enact the impugned statute; (ii) The impugned Act infringes Articles 25, 26, 29 and 30 of the Constitution; (iii) The impugned Act is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution; and (iv) The Act was mala fide.

Dismissing the petitions, the Court HELD:

(Per Misra, J.)

1:1. The Parliament had the legislative competence to enact the Auroville (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1980 (Act LIX) of 1980. [770 D]

1:2. The subject matter of the impugned Act is not covered by Entry 32 of List II of the Seventh Schedule. Even if the subject matter of the impugned Act is not covered by any specific entry of List I or III of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution it would in any case be covered by the residuary entry 97 of List I. [770 C-D]

1:3. The function of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution is not to confer powers. They merely demarcate the legislative fields. The Entries in the three Lists are only legislative heads or fields of legislation and the power to legislate is given to appropriate legislature by Articles 245 to 248 of the Constitution. [766 H, 767 A]

1:4. The Auroville Act even incidentally does not trench upon the field covered by the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961 as it is in no way related to Constitution, regulation and winding up of the Society. [770 B]

R.C. Cooper v. Union of India [1970] 3 SCR 530 @ 563, applied. Attorney General for Ontario v. Attorney General for the Dominion [1896] AC 348 @ 366-67; Union of India v. H.S. Dhillon [1972] 2 SCR 33 @ 45; Board of Trustees, Ayurvedic and Unani Tibia College v. The State of Delhi and Others [1962] 1 Supp. SCR 156; Katra Education Society v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others [1966] 3 SCR 328, referred to.

2:1. The words “religious denomination” in Article 26 of the Constitution must take their colour from the word ‘religion’ and if this be so, the expression “religious denomination” must also satisfy three conditions: (i) It must be a collection of individuals who has a system of beliefs or doctrine which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being, that is, a common faith; (ii) Common organisation: and (iii) Designation by a distinctive name. [774 B-D]

2:2. The term ‘religion’ has been judicially considered in the Commissioner of Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiyar of Sri Shriur Mutt [1954] SCR 1005 and the following propositions of law laid down therein have been consistently followed in later cases including The Durgah Committee, Ajmer and Another v. Syed Hussain Ali & Others [1962] 1 SCR 383 @ 410-11 : (1) Religion means “a system of beliefs or doctrines which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well being”; (2) A religion is not merely an opinion, doctrine or belief. It has its outward expression in acts as well; (3) Religion need not be theistic; (4) “Religious denomination” means a religious sect or body having a common faith and organisation and designated by a distinctive name; (5) A law which takes away the rights of administration from the hands of a religious denomination altogether and vests in another authority would amount to violation of the right guaranteed under clause (d) of Article 26.” [773 E-H, 774A]

Per Majority [Misra, J for himself, Y. V. Chandrachud, C.J., P. N. Bhagwati and V. Balakrishna Eradi, JJ. and Chinnappa Reddy, J. dissenting.]

2:3. On the basis of the materials the Memorandum of Association of the Society, the several applications made by the Society claiming exemption under s. 35 and s. 80 of the Income-tax Act, the repeated uttering of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother that the society and Auroville were not religious institutions and host of other documents there is no room for doubt that neither the Society nor Auroville constitute a religious denomination and the teachings of Sri Aurobindo only represented his philosophy and not a religion. [793 D- E] Numerous Uttering by Sri Aurobindo or the Mother unmistakably show that the Ashram or Society or Auroville is not a religious institution. There can be no better proof than what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother themselves thought of their teachings and their institutions to find out whether the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and his Integral Yoga constitute a religion or a philosophy. The Uttering made from time to time by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother hardly leave any doubt about the nature of the Institution. It was on the basis that it was not a religious institution, that the Society collected funds from the Central Government, the Governments of States, other non-Governmental agencies. and from abroad. [792 B-D, 793 A] Even assuming but not holding that the Society or the Auroville were a religious denomination, the impugned enactment is not hit by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The impugned enactment does not curtail the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion. Therefore, there is no question of the enactment being hit by Article 25. [793 E-F]

2:4. The impugned enactment does not stand in the way of the Society establishing and maintaining institutions for religious and charitable purposes, It also does not stand in the way of the Society to manage its affairs in matters of religion. [794 A-B]

2:5. Even assuming that the society or Auroville was a religious denomination, clause (b) of Art. 26 guarantees to a religious denomination a right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion. Besides the right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion, which is given by clause (b), the next two clauses of Art. 26 guarantee to a religious denomination the right to acquire and own property and to administer such property in accordance with law. The administration of its property by a religious denomination has thus been placed on a different footing from the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion. The latter is a fundamental right which no legislature can take away, whereas the former can be regulated by laws which the legislature can take away, whereas the former can be regulated by laws which the legislature can validity impose. It is clear, therefore, that question merely relating to a religions group or institution are not matters of religion to which clause of article applies.[800 H, 801 A-B]

2:6. The impugned Act had not taken away the right of management in matters of religion or a religious denomination, if the Society or Auroville is a religious denomination at all, rather it has taken away the right of management of the property of Auroville. Thus the impugned Act neither violates Article 25, nor Article 26 of the Constitution. [801 C-D]

The Commissioner of H. R. & C. E. Madras v. Lakshmindra Tirtha Swamiyar of Sri Sirur Mutt [1954] S.C.R. 1005; The Durgah Committee Ajmer and Another v. Syed Hussain Ali [1962] 1 S.C.R, 383; Tilkyat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj v. State of Rajasthan & others [1964] 1 S.C.R. 561; Sastri Yagnapurushadri & Others v. Muldas Bhudardas Vysya & Another [1966] 3 S.C.R. 242; Divyadassan Rajendra Ramdassji & Another v. State of Andhra Pradesh [1970] 1 S.C.R. 103; Nalaw Ramalingayya v. The Commissioner of Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Hyderabad A.I,R. 1971 (AP) 320; T. Krishnan v. G.D.M. Committee A.I.R, 1978 Kerala 68; applied.

3. On an analysis of Articles 29 and 30 and the decided cases it is evident that the Auroville Act does not seek to curtail the right of any section of citizen to conserve its own language, script or culture conferred by Article 29. The benefit of Art. 30(1) can be claimed by the community only on proving that it is a religious or linguistic minority and that the institution was established by it. Since Auroville or the Society is not a religious denomination, Articles 29 and 30 would not be attached and, therefore, the impugned Act cannot be held to be violative of Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution. [805 A-C]

In re: The Kerala Education Bill [1959] SCR 995; Reverend Sidhaibhai Serbhai and Others v. State of Bombay and Another [1963] 3 SCR 837 @ 856; State of Kerala v. Mother Provincial [1971] 1 SCR 734; applied.

4. The Auroville Take over Act cannot be said to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, which action was taken after full consideration of various aspects of the problem, for the reasons namely, (i) it has not been pointed out which were the other institutions where similar situations were prevailing; and (ii) there is a uniqueness with this institution inasmuch as the Government is also involved. Even a single institution may be taken as a class. The situation prevailing in the Auroville had converted the dream of the Mother into a nightmare. There had arisen acute law and order situation in the Auroville, numerous cases were pending against various foreigners, the funds meant for the Auroville had been diverted towards other purposes and the atmosphere was getting out of hand. In the circumstances the Government intervened and promulgated the Ordinance and later on substituted it by the impugned enactment. [814 B-D]

Budhan Choudhary v. The State of Bihar [1955] 1 SCR 1045: Shri Ramakrishna Dalmia v. Sri Justice S.R. Tandolkar and Others [1959] SCR 279; Raja Birakishore v. The Sate of Orissa [1964] 7 SCR 32, followed. Ram Prasad Narayan Sahi and Another v. State of Bihar and Others [1953] SCR 1129; distinguished.

5:1. Whether the remedies provided under the Societies Registration Act were sufficient to meet the exigencies of the situation is not for the Court to decide but it is for the Government and if the Government thought that the conditions prevailing in the Auroville and the Society can be ameliorated not by resorting to the provisions of the Societies Registration Act but by a special enactment, that is an area of the Government and not of the Court. [818 E-F]

5:2. It is not correct to say that the facts stated in the preamble of the Act were non est. Obviously there were serious irregularities in the management of the said society. There has been mis-utilisation of funds and their diversion to other purposes. This is evident from the audit report. There was no material change in the situation on the date of the impugned ordinance or the Act, rather the situation had grown from bad to worse and the sordid situation prevailing in the Auroville so pointed out by the parties fully justified the promulgation of the Ordinance and the passing of the enactment. Of course, each party tried to apportion the blame on the other. Who so ever be responsible, the fact remains that the prevailing situation in the Auroville was far from satisfactory. The amount donated for the construction of the cultural township Auroville and other institutions was to the tune of Rs. 3 crores. It was the responsibility of the Government to see that the amount was not misutilised and the management was properly carried out. On a perusal of the audit report, which is a voluminous one, all that can be said is that on the facts found by the audit committee, the report is rather a mild one. There seems to be serious irregularities in the accounts. A substantial amount received by way of donations had not been properly spent, there being misutilisation and diversion of the funds. [819 B-F]

5:3. Even assuming that the facts brought to the notice of the legislature were wrong, it will not be open to the Court to hold that Act to be bad on that account. The Court would not do so even in case of a litigation which has become final on the ground that the facts or the evidence produced in the case were not correct. The Parliament had to apply its mind on the facts before it. [819 F-H] We can normally assume that the Government would certainly appoint a responsible person as an administrator especially when there is a heavy stake in which the Government of India is also involved in as much as at the instance of the Government the UNESCO gave financial support to the institution. [820 F-G]

6. The contention that the report of the committee was tainted as Shri Kulkarni the Chairman and Secretary were parties, is without any foundation. The allegation of the impugne Act being malafide is equally devoid of force. Kiriti Joshi cannot be said to have his own axe to grind in the matter or was instrumental in getting the impugned Ordinance and the Act passed. Allegations about mala fides are more easily made than made out. Merely because he made a complaint about the situation prevailing in the management of Auroville and the Society, it cannot be said that the impugned enactment was passed at his behest. [820 H, 821 B- C]

Per Chinnappa Reddy, J. (Dissenting)

1:1. Shri Aurobindo truly was a religious teacher and taught and was understood to have taught new religious doctrine and practice. Therefore, Aurobindoism, can certainly be classified if not as a new religion, as a new sect of Hinduism and the followers of Sri Aurobindo can be termed a religious denomination. Sri Aurobindo of course, disclaimed that he was founding a religion. No great religious teacher ever claimed that he was founding a new religion or a new school of religious thought. The question is not whether Sri Aurobindo refused to claim or denied that he was founding a new religion or a new school of religious thought but whether his disciples and the community thought so. There is no doubt that they did not only his disciples and followers, but religious leaders all the world over and of all faiths. Therefore, Aurobindo Society is a sect of a religious determination within the meaning of the expression in Article 26 of the Constitution. [754 G-H, 755 A-B, F-G]

1:2. The word ‘religion’ does not occur in the Preamble to the constitution, but the Preamble does promise to secure to its citizens “Liberty of thought, expression, belief faith and worship”. The freedom of conscience and the Right to profess, propagate and practise religion guaranteed in Article 25 flow out of the idea so expressed in Preamble. Freedom of conscience is not to be separated from the Right to profess, practise and propagate religion. They go together and together they form part of the Right to Freedom of Religion. It is clear from Article 25 that secular activity may be associated with Religion. though the guarantee of the article does not extend to such activity. Article 26 guarantees that every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right, subject to public order, morality and health, to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion, to own and acquire movable and immovable property and to administer such property in accordance with law. Several provisions of the constitution where the expression ‘religion’ and ‘religious denomination’ are used are either those which are concerned with equality and equal opportunity or those which are concerned with freedom of religion. [742 D, F, G-H, 743 A, C]

1:3. Reading Art. 25 in the background of the proclamation regarding Liberty in the Preamble to the constitution, it is clear that (i) the constitution views religion as comprising thought, expression, belief, faith or worship, as involving the conscience and as something which may be professed, practised and propagated and which is any man’s attribute in the same manner as race, sex, language, residence etc: (ii) economic, financial, political or other secular activity may be associated with religious practice though such activity is not covered by the guarantee of freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate, religion; and so Religion is a matter of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, a matter involving the conscience and a matter which may be professed, practised and propagated by anyone and which may even have some secular activity associated with it. [744 F-H, 745 A]

1:4. Religion undefined by the constitution, is incapable of precise judicia definition either. In the background of the provisions of the constitution and the light shed by judicial precedent, it can at best be said that religion is a matter of faith. It is a matter of belief and doctrine. It concerns the conscience i.e. the spirit of man. It must be capable of overt expressions in work and deed, such as worship or ritual. So religion is a matter of belief and doctrine concerning the human spirit expressed overtly in the form of ritual and worship. Some religions are easily identifiable as religious; some are easily identifiable as not religious. There are many in the penumbral region which instinctively appear to some as religion and to others as not religions. There is no formula of general application. There is no knife-edge test. Primarily, it is a question of the consciousness of the community, how does the fraternity or sodality (if it is permissible to use the word without confining it to Roman Catholic Groups) regard itself, how do others regard the fraternity or sodality. A host of other circumstances may have to be considered, such as, the origin and the history of the community, the rituals observed by the community, what the founder, if any, taught, what the founder was understood by his followers to have taught, etc. In origin, the founder may not have intended to found any religion at all. He may have merely protested against some rituals and observances, he may have disagreed with the interpretation of some earlier religious tenets. What he said, what he preached and what he taught, his protest, his distant, his disagreement might have developed into a religion in the course of time, even during his life-time. He may be against religion itself, yet, history and the perception of the community may make a religion out of what was not intended to be a religion and he may be hailed as the founder of a new religion. [750 B-G] And, whatever the ordinary features of a religious denomination may be considered to be, all are not of equal importance and surely the common faith of the religious body is more important than the other features. [751 C]

The Commissioner of HR and C.E., Madras v. Lakshmindra Tirtha Swamiyar of Sri Shirur Mutt [1954] S.C.R. 1005; Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. The State of Bombay [1954] S.C.R. 1055; Durgah Committee of Ajmer v. Sayed Hussain Ali JUDGMENT: Maharaj v. The State of Rajasthan and Others [1964] 1 S.C.R. 561; Raja Virakishore v. State of Orissa [1964] 7 S.C.R. 32; Sasti Yagnapurushadji and Others v. Muldas Bhudardas Vaisnya and Another [1966] 3 S.C.R. 242; referred to.

1:5. Judidial definitions are not statutory definitions; they are mere explanations, every word of which is not to be weighed in golden scales. Law has a tendency to harden with the passage of time and judicial pronouncements are made to assume the form of statutory pronouncements. So soon as a word or expression occurring in the statute is judicially defined, the tendency is to try to interpret the language employed by the judges in the judicial definition. That is wrong. Always words and expressions to be interpreted are those employed in the statute and not those used by judges for felicitous explanation, Judicial definition is explanatory and not definitive. [751 C-E]

1:6. Religious denomination has not to owe allegiance to any parent religion. The entire following of a religion may be no more than the religious denomination. This may particularly be so in the case of small religious groups or ‘developing’ religions, that is, religions in the formative stage. So Aurobindoism can be termed as a religious denomination. The world and India treated and respected Shri Aurobindo as a religious teacher and the founder of a new religion. [751 E-G]

2:1. Auroville (Emergency Provisions) Act. 1980 did not take away or purport to take away the management of the Shri Aurobindo Society. Parliament concerned itself with the management of Auroville only and with no other activity of the Shri Aurobindo Society, including ‘its affairs in matters of religion’. In fact, section 4(2) makes it explicit that, except for matters relating to the management of Auroville, the provisions of the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961, under which the Society was registered, shall continue to apply to the Society in the same manner as before. [755 G-H, 757 C-D]

2:2. The management of the International, cultural township of Auroville cannot be said to be a matter of religion. Auroville is a township and not a place of the worship. It is a township dedicated, not to the practice and the propagation of any religious doctrine but to promote international understanding and world peace, surely, a secular and not a religious activity. The highest that can be said in favour of Auroville being a religious institution or its management being a religious matter, is that it was conceived by the Mother and shaped and sculpted by Shri Aurobindo’s disciples and followers in the pursuit of one of the ideas and ideals of Shri Aurobindo, a great religious teacher. On the other hand, the ideal itself, that is, the promotion of international understanding and world peace is by no means a religious ideal and it was because of the nature of the ideal that the Government of India and the UNESCO adopted the project. Shri Aurobindo himself was not a mere religious teacher. He was a visionary, a humanist and a nationalist who had blossomed into an internationalist. Therefore, Auroville, though the child of the Mother and though nurtured by the devotees of Shri Aurobindo, has an individuality, distinctly secular of its own. Hence, Auroville (Emergency Provisions) Act which provides for the taking over the management of Auroville for a limited period does not offend the rights guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. [757 E-H, 758 C]

2:3. The rights guaranteed by Articles 29 and 30 cannot be said to have been infringed by the Auroville Emergency provisions Act. No section of citizens having a culture and no religious minority has been denied the right to establish and administer an educational institution of its choice. [758 D-E]

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