With the first tranche of proceeds of the temple gold jewellery monetization scheme, the DMK government’s another subtle way of looting the temple’s precious wealth has been set in motion.
Last October, the HR and CE department Minister Sekar Babu announced that gold offerings from 10 years that remained after temple requirements would be melted at the government mint in Mumbai, and the pure gold thus received would be deposited in banks to obtain additional revenue for temples. He said gold, including precious gems embedded in jewellery that the devotees have donated over the years, would be assessed and that those which were not used or damaged would be sent to a purifying facility of the Central government and moulded into bars. It is learnt that nearly 27,205 kg of gold was segregated and sent to the central government facility on April 1 this year. The gold bars were deposited in SBI’s bullion branch in Mumbai on April 29.
According to the government, the gold deposit would generate an annual income of Rs. 24 lakhs for the temples as interest.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, on June 15, handed over gold deposit bonds worth Rs 10 crore from the SBI to HR&CE officials from the Irukkankudi Mariamman temple in the presence of Minister PK Sekar Babu. HR and CE appointed retired HC judge R Mala, who was in charge of the Irukkankudi temple gold conversion scheme in the Madurai zone. Gold ornaments offered by the devotees to nine major temples, including Palani Dhandayuthapani Swamy temple, Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple in Madurai, Subrahmanya Swamy temple in Tiruchendur and Mariamman temple in Samayapuram, were converted into gold bars. The department has deposited gold bars weighing over 497 kg so far.
The temple properties, both movable and immovable, antique jewellery, and rare and invaluable idols, have been the targets of politicians, the international idol smuggling mafia and some corrupt HR and CE officials. Lakhs of acres of temple lands are being grabbed, alienated, and given to other religious people. Idols are being stolen and smuggled for a hefty sum. Rare and antique value ancient temple jewellery was reportedly replaced with duplicate ones. There is a strong cry to retrieve the temples from the government control and leave it to function independently like the Waqf board and Christian churches. But both the DMK and AIADMK are not in favour of it for reasons better known to them.
According to an RTI activist and devotee, Kumar said, “The loot begins scientifically. Antique jewellery of TN with original priceless and valuable diamond, Rubie and gemstones will be pilfered away stealthily before making into bars. Who will supervise these processes? Who decides which unused gold is? The HC has clearly said the deity is the owner of temple properties and HR and CE. It should manage as per the agamas. The properties, donations, and endowments should be used only for the purpose that was intended. CM Stalin is following in his father Karunanidhi’s footsteps, who was described as ‘father of scientific corruption ‘by the justice Sarkaria Commission that inquired corruption charges against DMK government in the 1970s”.
Another devotee, Murali, asks, “A lot of gold ornaments are being kept in bank lockers for years together by several politicians and the public. Will the government apply the same logic to unused or damaged and convert them into gold? The DMK government is keen on temple affairs but for a different purpose, namely looting in all possible ways. DMK, DK, left, VCK, Congress, and other political parties have a lot of cash and innumerable properties worth several thousand crores in their kitty. Can the unused cash and the immovable properties including ill-gotten wealth, be nationalized for poverty alleviation projects?”