Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 9: An RBI circular seeking details of gold stocks in the temples of Kerala, which has some the country’s richest shrines, has kicked up a storm.
Some groups have questioned the move and its timing, wondering if it is part of the Centre’s plan to buy the stocks to check the rupee’s fall.
“It is reminiscent of the Mughal era. The wealth stored in the temples was contributed by devotees over thousands of years and we will not allow anyone to usurp it,” VHP leader V. Mohanan said.
The outfit and some other groups claim the move infringes on “religious freedom” and have urged the famous Guruvayur temple, which has about 600kg of gold, to reject the directive.
Only a sixth of the gold is kept in the shrine in the form of vessels and other utensils for daily rituals. The rest is deposited with the SBI.
In Mumbai, RBI spokesperson Alpana Killawala clarified “the objective is to collect data” and asserted there was no proposal to buy gold and bullion from temples.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which runs the Sabarimala temple and hundreds of smaller shrines, has also received the circular.
TDB president M.P. Govindan Nair said the issue hadn’t been discussed yet. “There is no urgency as the RBI has not set any time limit.”
Nair said, however, he believed there was nothing in the circular to infer anything adverse. “Maybe, it’s part of a statistical exercise.”
But lawyers doubted if the move would stand the test of law.
“The RBI’s operations are governed by its statute. But in a strict sense, what it has sought from the temples seems to be beyond its jurisdiction and is highly debatable,” said advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, an expert on the subject.