What are the Position, Rights and Liabilities of a Shebait under Hindu Law?

The Shebait is bound to do whatever is necessary for the benefit or preservation of the debutter property. Thus, he may incur debts for the proper expenses of keeping up of the religious worship, repairing the temple or other possessions of the idols, instituting or defending hostile litigation, and to prevent the endowed properties from being brought to sale in execution of decrees binding upon the temple.

Being in the position of a trustee, he cannot purchase any part of the debutter property, even if he pays a good price for it. Thus, it has been held that a sale of debutter property with a view to “realise a fancy price” is void. If in the management of the property, he incurs any out-of-pocket expenses, he is entitled to be reimbursed from the property.

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Alienation of debutter property by Shebait:

A Shebait has the same power of alienation over debutter property as a mahant. See the topic “Alienation of debutter property by a mahant”, below.

Devolution of office of SHEBAIT:

In the case of a temple, succession to the office of a Shebait is governed by the terms of the deed or will by which it is created, and in the absence of such a provision, by the custom or usage of the institution, and in the absence of such a custom, the right passes to the founder and his heirs, provided the person on whom the office devolves is not unfit, according to the usages of worship, to perform the rites of the office.

Some cases have laid down that a founder cannot lay down a line of succession for shebaitship which is inconsistent with the general law. However, other cases have held that it is competent for an heir of a founder to create a new line of succession on failure of the original line of succession.

There is also a conflict of decisions on whether a shebait can nominate a successor by will. The Bombay High Court has answered this question in the affirmative, whereas the High Courts of Calcutta and Allahabad have held that a Shebait cannot nominate his successor by will.

When the office of Shebait becomes vested in more than one person, the interested parties can arrange between themselves as regards the due execution of their functions, – in turns or in some settled order or sequence. When the right to worship carries with it the right to receive offerings also, any one of such persons can sue for a division of the right, in the same manner as a person can sue for a partition of a joint Hindu family. However, when the office does not carry with it the right to receive offerings, no suit will lie for a division of the right and the property must be managed by them jointly.

The Supreme Court has held that a female is also entitled to succeed to the religious office of shebaitship.