In a major embarrassment to the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government in Andhra Pradesh, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, on June 14, cancelled the appointment of Sanchaita Gajapathi Raju as the hereditary chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the influential Maharaja Alak Narayan Society of Arts & Science (MANSAS) Trust and as the chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Devasthanam at Simhachalam in Visakhapatnam. The Andhra Pradesh government had, via government orders (GOs) 72 and 74, appointed Sanchaita Gajapathi Raju as the chairperson of the two organisations in March 2020 after jettisoning her uncle Ashok Gajapathi Raju. The High Court also ordered the reinstatement of Ashok Gajapathi Raju, a former Union Civil Aviation Minister, as the hereditary trustee/chairman of the two organisations.
Soon after his removal, Ashok Gajapathi Raju, who belongs to the Pusapati royal family of the Vizianagaram estate and has been with the Telugu Desam Party ever since its founding in 1982, had approached the Andhra Pradesh High Court contending that he was removed from the posts illegally and without following principles of natural justice and that the GOs were issued in violation of norms.
The MANSAS Trust, owned by the Pusapati Vizianagaram royal family, runs 12 educational institutions and controls thousands of acres of prime land in north coastal Andhra Pradesh worth more than Rs.50,000 crore. The Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Devasthanam Trust Board, also known as the VLN Simhachalam Devasthanam Board, manages over 100 temples, including one of the largest temples in the State, the famous Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha temple. Ashok Gajapathi Raju was the chairman of the trust following the death of his brother Ananda Gajapathi Raju in 2016 until he was removed by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in March 2020. Sanchaita Gajapathi Raju is the daughter of Ananda Gajapathi Raju from his first wife, Uma.
In his petition, Ashok Gajapathi Raju contended that the established practice in the Simhachalam Devasthanam has been for the “eldest male lineal descendant” of the Pusapati Gajapathi family of the princely State of Vizianagaram to be the hereditary trustee/chairman” and this has been the “well established practice for over three centuries”. It was a tradition that was continued even after the temple came under the purview of the Madras Endowment Act of 1951 and, subsequently, Act 17 of 1966 and Act 30 of 1987 of Andhra Pradesh. Ashok Gajapathi Raju said that the GOs were issued in violation of norms, contending that only the eldest in the family had the right to hold posts. He argued that the government’s jurisdiction over the MANSAS Trust was very limited since it was a public charitable trust started by his late father and its “functioning was guided by a trust deed executed by the settlor”. Hence, he argued, the rules under the Indian Trust Act, 1982 could not be ignored. He also sought to lend credence to his submission by citing certain provisions of the Hindu Succession Act and various other judgments.