'The Sangh Parivar's position is that whatever gold that is there in a temple should remain there. It shouldn't be taken away by anyone.'
'See, we are not misappropriating anything; we are only using it for the welfare of the temple and the devotees.'
"We have not yet completed taking stock of the gold reserve in the temples. But our expectation is that it will be around 1,000 kg. That's why we expect around Rs 10 crores as interest," N Vasu, president, Travancore Devaswom Board, tells Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com in the concluding segment of a two-part interview.
How much gold will the Travancore Devaswom Board be able to pledge?
We have not yet completed taking stock of the gold reserve in the temples. But our expectation is that it will be around 1,000 kg. That's why we expect around Rs 10 crores (Rs 100 million) as interest.
How do you plan to use the interest?
The gold will be coming from several temples in the Travancore area. So, our plan is to make use of the income in the temple proportionate to the gold the temple pledges.
We cannot use the entire amount on the temples alone as we have huge administrative issues as well. We are terribly short of funds due to the Covid situation.
Though you had planned to make use of the gold sitting idle in temples in January itself, has it become a necessity now?
Yes, it has become a necessity now as we need money urgently to pay the salaries of the employees.
We have not been able to do any repairs of the temples due to lack of funds.
Initially, when we thought of pledging the gold, we had planned to make use of the substantial portion of the income on the temples, but the present situation has made us use it for administrative purposes.
How have the devotees reacted to pledging gold with the Reserve Bank of India? Did you meet with any opposition to this idea?
You know very well that Kerala is a very politically active state. Yes, we did face opposition from a particular political party, the name of which I do not want to mention.
Is it the Bharatiya Janata Party?
Yes, it is the Sangh Parivar that is against the proposal.
Their position is that whatever gold that is there in a temple should remain there. It shouldn't be taken away by anyone.
See, we are not misappropriating anything; we are only using it for the welfare of the temple and the devotees.
Once we take stock of the gold reserve, we will place the report in front of the high court.
We are bound to place a detailed report before the Devaswom bench of the high court for its permission.
Only after we get permission from the court, can we go ahead with the proposal.
Is it mandatory that you need the high court's permission to pledge the gold?
Devaswom properties are minor's property as the deities are supposed to be minors.
In fact, the audit of the Devaswom Board is also supervised by the high court. So, we have to get the court's mandate before we take such decisions.
But nowhere is it stated that we have to approach the high court, but whenever there is a controversy we approach the high court to make the matter clear. We want to do everything in a transparent manner.
You said the deities are minors. Then, who is the guardian of the revenue of a temple?
The high court is supposed to be the guardian.
There was criticism when the Devaswom Board decided to sell some of the lamps belonging to the temple...
This was a decision taken by the board in January. There are some temples that have huge lamps and many such items which are not used at all.
In fact, they had become a burden as there was no adequate place to store them safely.
So, we thought those items which are not needed for the day to day use in the temple, should be placed for pubic auction.
Before taking the decision, we had approached the high court for permission.
In fact, we went to the court on these two accounts; for pledging the gold and also selling the unused items.
After Unlock 4.0, devotees have slowly started coming to the temples. When do you expect normalcy to come back?
We cannot predict anything now. From the 1st of Chingam (the Malayalam month), we have opened our temples to devotees, except Sabarimala. But this is allowed under very stringent conditions -- like those above 65 cannot enter the temples, so also children below 10.
A large chunk of our devotees belongs to the above 65 age group.
We allow only five devotees inside the temple at a time. During the Deeparadhana time, nobody is allowed.
Because of all these restrictions, we don't expect much revenue. Perhaps we may get half of the normal income!
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com