Chennai, Feb. 15: A pilgrim who had to go without a bath after tonsuring his head at an ancient temple in Tamil Nadu has been awarded Rs 500 in damages by a consumer court.
The order is perhaps the first directing a temple devasthanam (trust) to pay compensation for “deficiency in service”.
Selvakumar, an advocate, had visited the famous Shri Devanathaswamy temple at Tiruvendipuram village, 10 km from Cuddalore, with his family on February 7, 2000.
The temple attracts thousands of pilgrims, many of whom come with their children because it also has a shrine to Hayagreeva (Vishnu with the horse’s mouth who saved the Vedas), revered as the Lord of Learning in the Hindu pantheon.
Selvakumar had his head tonsured and paid Rs 5, out of which the barber’s share was Rs 4 while Re 1 went to the devasthanam.
According to a complaint filed at the Cuddalore District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Selvakumar went to take a bath after tonsuring his head but found that the tap in the bathroom near the tonsure centre had run dry.
A nearby hand pump was also not working and Selvakumar could not take a dip in the Gadilam river that courses around the temple because the “water was contaminated with human excreta, drainage water and rubbish”.
Without a bath he could not go for a darshan of the deity, so the pilgrim approached the temple authorities for help.
But the clerk at the “devasthanam office abused me and told me he was not bothered as to whether the complainant was an advocate or a collector” and asked him to do whatever he could, the complaint said.
After waiting for nearly two hours, Selvakumar and his family returned to Cuddalore town, where the lawyer had his bath at the bathroom in the municipal bus stand, before heading home to Parangipettai in the same district “without the darshan of the Lord”.
Later, Selvakumar filed a complaint with the Cuddalore consumer forum seeking Rs 25,000 as damages for “mental agony, loss, injury and hardship suffered by him due to the extreme carelessness and gross negligence”. He sought Rs 2,000 more for the litigation costs.
The temple authorities in their rejoinder said the complainant was not a “consumer” as he had only paid a “tonsure donation” and not “tonsure charges”. The temple had provided 13 taps for the pilgrims but on that day, there was no power supply to pump up the water.
They also denied the clerk had abused him, claiming that he had informed Selvakumar he could have his bath by fetching water from a well in the temple complex. But the complainant “refused to have bath” either in the temple or in the river nearby, which the authorities said was not contaminated. In any case, the complainant’s claim was “excessive”, the temple’s counsel argued.
The Cuddalore forum held that it was the duty of the devasthanam to provide bathing facilities for devotees after they offer their hair to the Lord, and that the complainant was a ‘consumer’ within the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act.
The temple appealed against the order to the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. Six years after the incident, the commission has upheld the district forum’s order that “the complainant was entitled to be paid Rs 500 as costs”.
Even if there was a power failure, it was the duty of the devasthanam to provide an alternative by “storing water in tubs, or tanks”, the forum had said. Sufficient amenities should be provided at all times to pilgrims, it added. The state commission agreed with this.
Rejecting the argument that no charges were received, the commission said that when the barber was paid Rs 4 and the temple got Re 1 for each tonsure, it was the responsibility of the authorities to provide necessary facilities.