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All that gold doesn’t glitter

- Thailand offer scares state

New Delhi, Feb. 19: This is one golden offer that has spooked the Bihar government.

The royal family of Thailand has made an offer to install a dome made of 100kg of gold atop the Thai temple in Bodhgaya.

The government of Nitish Kumar, which claims improved law and order as one of its successes, has, however, turned down the proposal on the ground that it would create security problems in the holy town and it would be difficult to protect the “golden temple”.

The Union tourism ministry has now written to the Bihar government, urging it to accept the offer made by the Thai Royal Trust, managed by the office of Queen Sirikit.

According to officials in the ministry, the trust had sent the offer to the Bihar chief minister’s office in October last year, saying it was keen to build a dome carved out of gold atop the Thai temple. Many countries such as Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka have constructed temples and monasteries in the vicinity of the Mahabodhi temple — the 1,500-year-old World Heritage monument built at the site where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment — in Bodhgaya, about 110km south of Patna.

The Thai temple, close to the Mahabodhi complex, was built in 1957. It has a sloping, curved roof with golden tiles. Inside, the temple has a massive bronze statue of Buddha.

The Bihar government, according to the Union tourism officials, ran scared and rejected the proposal citing security concerns.

“As Bihar refused the gift, valued at around Rs 35 crore going by the present market rate, the ministry has taken up the issue. The Thai royal trust, run by the queen’s office, and their tourism officials approached us and requested us to persuade the state government. They expressed their inability to provide adequate security to a temple that has a 100-kg gold plating on top. We have now written to the Bihar government and are awaiting their response. The Centre feels such an initiative will be a major boost to tourism in the state,” said a senior official in the tourism ministry.

The official said the Centre believed the golden gift would benefit Bihar and eventually India. “It will not only enrich the temple town, but is also likely to make Bodhgaya more popular among the tourists flocking to the Buddhist circuit,” he added.

About one lakh tourists, most of them Buddhists from Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand other south Asian countries, visit Bodhgaya annually.

Bihar tourism minister Sunil Kumar said he had not come across any such letter from the Centre. “I have not come across any such letter from the Union tourism ministry till now. This issue has never been brought to my notice,” the minister, who is known as Pintu, told The Telegraph.

Asked if the state government was ready to provide security to the Thai temple if the offer for the golden dome was accepted, the minister said the matter needed to be given serious thought.

“Bodhgaya has always been a secure place and the government has provided adequate security. However, if at all the royal family of Thailand wants to construct a dome made of gold atop the Thai temple, they should also take the initiative towards providing security to the structure. This issue needs to be discussed in detail with the chief minister. The government is always ready to provide security but a dome made of gold requires security for 24 hours. The country (Thailand) can always coordinate with the state government regarding beefed up security of the temple. It is just like ATMs which are manned by security personnel hired by the respective banks,” the minister told The Telegraph.

Though the chief minister’s office didn’t respond when asked whether such a proposal had been received, the Bodhgaya temple management committee secretary, N. Dorjee, told The Telegraph that while the main temple, being a world heritage site, could not undergo major restructuring, other structures were free to do so if the government permitted.

“I can’t comment on the security implications that the project causes but if such an offer has been received, the government will have to decide. We have also received an offer from a group of individuals from Thailand to create a huge star made of gold on top of the Mahabodhi temple and the management is considering it in consultation with the state government,” he said.

Additional reporting by Joy Sengupta