Who are “shebait” or Mahant’ ? State the general rule of the devolution of property of a religious endowment on the death of `Shebait’ or `Malume.

Ans. Who is Shebait.—A Shebait is by virtue of his office, the administrator of the property attached to the temple of which he is the she bait. As regards the property of the temple, he is in the position of a trustee. But as regards the service of the temple, and the duties that appertain to it, he is rather in the position of the holder of an office of dignity. It has been laid down by the Judicial Committee that the shebait has not a legal ownership in, but only the title of the manager of a religious endowment. In Kishore Joo v. Guman Behari Jooa Deo (AIR 1978 All. 1), the Allahabad High Court has observed that it is settled law that normally it is the Shebait alone who can file a suit on behalf of idol, but it is also equally well settled that in exceptional circumstances persons other than a Shehait can also institute a suit on behalf of an idol. Who is `Mahant’ ?—As to the property of math, the title to it in an ordinary case is in the Mahant as the spiritual head of the institution, but the property may by usage and custom of the institution vest in trustees other than the spiritual head. In any case the property is held solely in trust for the purpose of the institution. (Ram Prakash Das v.Anand Das, 43 I.A. 73/, A Mahant is not a trustee in the English legal sense of the term. His function and duties are regulated by custom. He has wide discretion as to the application of the income but this is subject to the fiduciary obligation to manage the property so as to serve effectively the objects for which the math exists. In Ram Prakash Das v. State ofM.P. (AIR 1981 M.P), it was pointed out that the object of Math is to promote any religious faith whereas the object of temple to perpetuate the worship of any particular deity. Devolution of office of shebait—The devolution of the office of shebait depends on the terms of the deed or will by which it was created. Where there is no such provision the deed or will as to succession, the title to the property or to the control or management of property, as the case may be, follows the line of inheritance from the founder. In other words it passes to his heirs unless there has been usage or courses of dealing which point to a different mode of devolution, e.g., devolution on a single heir. But this rule cannot be applied so as to vest the shehait.thip in persons who according to the usages of the worship canrot perform the rites of offi ce. A shebait may nominate his successoir by will. It has been held in Smt. Hiranbala Devi v.Bhattacharya, (AIR 1976 Cal. 404), that a testator who dedicates his property to a deity by a deed of settlement cannot lay down a line of succession to the office of she balish ip which is consistent with general law of succession. Devolution of office of mahant.—The succession to the office of Mahunt depends upon the usage of each particular math. The custom that prevails in majority of the cases is that the mahant nominates his successor, by appointment during his lifetime or by will. When a Mahant has the power to appoint his own successor, he cannot delegate or transfer that power to any person. In some cases succession depends upon election by disciples (chela) and followers of the Math. But the fact that the previous incumbent of a Math, which was a public trust of a religious and charitable character, desired that a particular person should succeed him, does not preclude the court from exercising its jurisdiction to remove him from such position, where such person by his conduct shows himself unfit for the position as head of the Math. In various institutions the custom is that in order to entitle the chela to succeed, he must be appointed or nominated by the Mahant during his lifetime fRukinibai v. Nanaburva, 1979 Mah. L.J. 1871,