High Court dismisses 'absurd and pointless' suit over Hindu temple in Yishun

Justice Choo Han Teck said the dispute over the Sree Maha Mariamman Temple should not have gone to trial. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - A spat between two factions tussling for control of a Hindu temple in Yishun ended up in what a High Court judge called "one of the most absurd and pointless actions to have been filed".

In a written judgment on Thursday (May 27), Justice Choo Han Teck said the dispute over the Sree Maha Mariamman Temple should not have gone to trial.

One faction includes Mr Subramaniam Karuppiah Thevar, whose sister, Madam K. Kalyanathayee, is the founder and was a longstanding president of the temple.

The other faction includes four management committee members who were elected after her death in 2017.

Disputes had arisen over the legitimacy of the 2017 committee, with some temple members calling for fresh elections.

In September 2018, Mr Subramaniam unilaterally held an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) in which 40 people voted to remove the 11-member committee and to elect a new one with him as the president.

In May 2019, he sued the four committee members, including past president N. Anandaraja, who no longer sits on the committee, and current president R. Magendran. He wanted the High Court to order the defendants to hand over all documents and property of the temple to him.

The membership list was also disputed - Mr Subramaniam's list had four core life members and 108 core ordinary members, while the defendants' had 96 members.

Justice Choo dismissed Mr Subramaniam's case.

The judge said the EOGM was not validly convened as no approval was obtained from the management committee.

In any event, an EOGM was not the correct procedure for electing a new management committee, he said.

Under the temple's Constitution, the committee is to be elected once every two years at an annual general meeting (AGM).

"Temple members cannot unilaterally convene an EOGM whenever they please to vote out the management committee. If members are dissatisfied with the management committee, they can vote them out at the next election," said Justice Choo.

He said neither side can prove who is a legitimate member because the people who verified the lists were not called as witnesses.

The judge added that had Mr Subramaniam stood for election at the June 2019 AGM, this matter would have been resolved two years ago.

Justice Choo noted that he had told the lawyers on March 8 that the trial was "pointless" since the next AGM would be held in June this year.

However, the lawyers said their clients wanted to proceed.

On the first day of trial on April 20, Justice Choo told the parties that by the time his judgment is released, it would be almost time for the next AGM.

"The trial would therefore be a complete waste of time and money," said the judge.

He gave the parties the rest of the day to resolve the matter, but the next day, the lawyers said their clients had instructed them to proceed.

The trial concluded within the day, and final submissions were filed on May 20.

"As I have repeatedly told the parties and their counsel, they should ensure that the June 2021 AGM is conducted properly to avoid similar pointless litigation in future," said Justice Choo.

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