The Tamil Nadu government has revealed that so far 5 lakh kg temple jewellery has been melted and deposited under the gold monetization scheme. PILs were filed against the DMK government’s move to melt 2137 kg temple jewellery. In response to these petitions HRCE has replied in court that so far 5 lakh kg jewellery has been melted and deposited which fetches Rs.11 crore per year as interest.
The DMK government had proposed to monetise temple jewellery by melting it and depositing it under the gold monetisation scheme to earn a stable income for the temples. The move invited severe criticism as the HRCE has no right to touch temple properties. The fact that the presence of HRCE in many temples itself is illegal was pointed out by the temple activists as the reason to oppose this move.
Temple activists had filed PILs in Madras High Court against the move and sought an audition of temple jewellery as well. The HRCE minister had said that it has been in practice since a long time and that they are only following the TTD model. Following this queries were raised on how much gold has been taken away from temples in this manner so far.
During the hearing of the PILs HRCE’s counsel submitted that “5 lakh kilogram” temple jewellery has been melted and deposited since 1997 and that it earned an amount of Rs.11 crore per year as interest. However, as people started questioning how “5 lakh kg” gold can fetch only Rs.11 crore per year, a clarification was issued that HRCE meant 5 lakh grams (4,97,795 gm exactly) and not 5 lakh kilograms.
As per the rules of the HRCE Act 1959, only a trustee of a temple can make the decision to melt temple jewellery. But in TN most of the temples do not have a trustee but only fit-persons appointed by HRCE acting as trustees. So activists have been vehemently opposing this move as it is not only anti-Hindu but illegal as well.
While the “5 lakh kg gold” was perceived to be a case of misreporting initially, HRCE’s counsel issuing a clarification has only strengthened the suspicions. Curiously only The New Indian Express has issued a clarification about the numbers while all other media including The Hindu reported the number as “5 lakh kg jewellery”. It could be that the melted jewellery mostly had precious stones and thus fetched less gold. But then the government hasn’t said anything to that effect or revealed any details about the precious stones recovered from the melting jewellery.
Many major temples in TN like Rameshwaram Ramanathaswamy, Madurai Meenakshi and Palani Balathandayuthapani temples receive Rs. 1 to 2 crores every month as hundi collection. In 2019, Palani temple had received more than Rs. 6 crore in January alone. Even in the midst of a pandemic when temples are closed for darshan on 3 days of a week, Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple had collected a whopping Rs. 73 lakhs in September. In April, Rameshwaram Ramanathaswamy temple’s hundi collection had crossed Rs. 1 crore.
While the hundi collection itself is in crores, temple jewellery being melted for a mere Rs. 11 crore annual interest has also raised suspicions. HRCE has said that it will release a break up of interest figures over the years since 1977. Even if the figures are true, why would the consecutive governments continue to deposit gold for such low interest and why they didn’t withdraw and deposit again?
Even though the courts haven’t exactly been doing justice to Hindus when it comes to religious and cultural issues, hopefully they will get to the bottom of this and expose the corruption in HRCE. The government, through HRCE, taking over temples and managing their assets has proved to be disastrous. We have reported the ills of HRCE’s presence in temples many times. The past incidents where HRCE swindled temple gold can be read here.