Property absolutely dedicated to religious or charitable purpose is called debutter property. Debutter means literally belonging to a deity. Where the dedication is absolute and complete, the possession and management of the property belongs, in the case of a deosthana or temple, to the manager of the temple, called shebait but the property vests in the idol; and in case of math that is an abode for students of religion, to the head of the math called mahant.
A shebait is by virtue of his office, the administrator of the property attached to the temple. 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 is incumbent on the shebait to perform the religious duties of the deity both daily and periodically and doing so he may appoint qualified persons. He must also keep the temple in a state of proper repairs, provided for the work ship by the person interested, ensure order and decency in the temple, preserve its sanctity and prevent overcrowding.
The possession and management of the dedicated property is vested in the shebait as such. He is also entitled to the custody of the idol.
He has a right to appropriate the offering of pilgrims only if they are of perishable nature, i.e., articles of food, but the articles of metallic nature are deemed to be intended to contribute to the maintenance of the endowment.
Power of alienation of debutter property:
As a general rule, the property given to religious worship and charities connected with it is inalienable. It is however, competent for the shebait of the mahant to charge the property by incurring debts and borrowing money on a mortgage for the purpose of religious worship and for the benefit and preservation of the property. The power can be exercised only in cases of actual necessity.
The power of the shebait or a mahant alienate the debutter property is analogous to that of manager for an infant heir as defined in Hanuman Prasad v. Mst. Babooee (1856) 6 M.I.A. 393, a deity being looked upon as a particular minor. [Prosonna Kumar v. Gulab Chand, 2 I.A. 145], Thus he can alienate the property only in a case of need or for the benefit of the estate. He cannot grant a permanent lease of the debutter property except for legal necessity.
The duties and powers of a Mahant are similar to those of a shebait.