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'Temple may have to pledge treasure to RBI'

July 25, 2020 12:58 IST

'As a person who has seen the treasure, I am worried about its safety.'

IMAGE: The Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

"We do not know the exact value of the treasure. National Geographic says it is worth $3 trillion. Some say it is worth $1 trillion. It could be anything between $1 trillion and $3 trillion," Professor M G Sasibhooshan, historian and expert on the Padmanabhaswamy temple, tells Shobha Warrier/ in the concluding segment of his interview.


The high court verdict in 2011 was in favour of the state. It asked the state to set up a trust to take control of the management of the temple.


But the Supreme Court in its verdict mentioned the Puri Jagannath temple and also the Chidambaram temple where the priests had a say in the administration of the temple.

Following the same pattern, the court decided to give same powers to the royal family and also the priest of the temple.

Now, the family will have a say not only in the rituals of the temple, but in the administration and accounts also.

The court says that the senior-most member of the royal family should see any transaction above Rs 15 lakhs.

This trust also should nominate an advisory committee consisting of three members, in which the royal family has two nominees; one a member of the family and a chartered accountant whose name will be proposed by the family.

The third member will be a retired judge, nominated by the chief justice of Kerala.

This advisory committee has no authority to take any decisions, it can only advise the temple on its affairs.

So, if you look at these two committees, you will see that the royal family has equal or more say in both the committees.

Can we say that compared to the high court judgment which gave power to the state government, the Supreme Court verdict totally excludes the state from the affairs of the temple?

Yes. The state government can nominate only one member in the committee, perhaps someone from the Devaswom Board.

They will not be able to appoint a CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the Communist Party of India-Marxist trade union) leader or a Congress leader to administer the temple!

The state government will not have any direct control on the temple.

It is this fact about the verdict that made the devotees of the temple very happy.

I am using the words 'direct control' because at present, the temple has armed police to guard the treasure, and it is provided by the state.

The state has spent Rs 11 crores from 2011 to 2020 to safeguard the treasure.

The Supreme Court has now asked the temple to return this Rs 11 crores to the state.

The court further said that hereafter it was the responsibility of the temple to take care of the treasure.

The temple has to shell out a large amount to pay the salaries of the security personnel.

Is that the reason why some said the temple had to go begging to the state for money?

Yes. The temple will not be able to spend such a large amount on security. It has to seek the help of either the state government or the central government for this.

Personally, I feel the temple may have to pledge the treasure to the Reserve Bank of India.

One thing is certain, nobody will be able to sell even a single coin from the treasure as everything has been accounted for. The cataloguing of the treasure is complete.

It is said that the ruler of Travancore took money from the treasure in 1931 when there was a recession. Is it true?

Yes, it is true. You can see the reports in The Hindu and Deepika newspapers. This is also mentioned in a book written during that period on Travancore, and published by the Oxford University Press.

The treasure is part of our history and culture. Should it not be exhibited in a museum?

The museum is a good idea, but unless it is handled well, it will become dangerous.

As a person who has seen the treasure, I am worried about its safety.

We do not have a single good museum in India. Moreover, the maximum number of thefts have taken place in museums.

Why not a set up a museum exclusively for this?

How long will it take to build a good and safe museum? It may take at least 10 years! It will not happen tomorrow or next year.

Yes, if there is a museum, the temple can recover the cost of safeguarding the treasure from the income from the museum.

Can the Archaeological Survey of India take over the treasure?

ASI can take over only if it is a treasure trove. This is a private property, and also an accounted property.

Should such a treasure remain in some dark secret chamber? Should the people not have the right to see them?

Yes, everyone is of the opinion that the public should see and enjoy the treasure. No sensible person will say that it should remain in a dark chamber.

Another issue is, we do not know the exact value of the treasure. National Geographic says it is worth $3 trillion. Some say it is worth $1 trillion. It could be anything between $1 trillion and $3 trillion.

It is also a fact that this is not the real value as you cannot put a value on antique items.

In case you build a museum, you need not display all the one lakh items in the museum; you cannot also. Maybe you can display 100 to 200 items for the public.

The rest can be pledged to the RBI, and if it is included in the gold reserve, the country can even raise the value of Indian rupee.

This way, the temple also can get some income from the RBI. This is how I look at it.

Many describe the Supreme Court judgment as a landmark one. Do you feel it is one?

It is a very important judgment.

For the last many decades, politicians have been administering the temples of Kerala. In fact, the state government argued for a Guruvayoor model in the running of this temple also.

Everybody knows how Guruvayoor temple is controlled by the political class.

Yes, the judgment is important because it stops the interference of politicians in the running of temples.