Kerala temple boards play down RBI gold survey

Kerala temple boards play down RBI gold survey

Kerala temple boards play down RBI gold survey

Devaswom boards in Kerala have underplayed the potential consequences of the RBI communication seeking details of the gold in their possession.

Sources in the boards said their respective management committees would discuss the issue, stressing that it is too early to link the RBI’s communication with any plans by the central bank to procure the gold to strengthen the rupee.

Of the five Devaswom Boards that manage temple administration in the state – Guruvayur, Travancore, Cochin, Malabar and Koodalmanikyam – only the Guruvayur Board has confirmed receiving a formal communication from RBI in this connection.

The RBI has assured confidentiality on the temple’s gold wealth and said the exercise was part of a “survey” it was taking up on temple-owned assets.

The letter comes in the backdrop of the Bank’s reported recommendation to convert gold in possession of major temple trusts across India into bullion in an effort to buttress the Rupee. The Bank, however, has denied the reports.

Guruvayur Devaswom Board (GDB) Administrator K Muraleedharan told Deccan Herald on Friday that the letter had been moved for consideration of the Board’s management committee. He said there was no mention in the letter of the survey being part of any move to offset the economic crisis.

“To begin with, we need to constitute a new management committee to discuss the matter. Further, for even transactions of over Rs five lakh, we have to take permission from the Devaswom Commissioner and other senior officials. At this stage, it’s too early to discuss the repercussions of the plan,” he said. Unofficial figures put gold in  
Cochin Special Devaswom Commissioner N Sukumaran said he was contacted by an RBI official in connection with the proposed survey. “I was told that an official message would be sent but we are yet to receive it,” Sukumaran said. The Cochin Devaswom Board (CDB) manages about 130 popular temples in the districts of Ernakulam, Thrissur and Palakkad.

Senior officials across the boards maintained that a statistical survey initiated by the RBI on temple wealth was a first and said the move was unlikely to gather pace because it was an “emotional issue” for devotees. “We are talking about bringing temple wealth under the scrutiny of central banking institutions. It’s bound to attract criticism and some of the board members have pointed this out,” a senior Devaswom official said on condition of anonymity.

Another official said some of the major temple trusts had already entered in gold deposit schemes with banks. “Not all of these trusts take up periodic assessment of wealth at the temples due to security concerns. If they are entrusted with this task of a fresh assessment, it’s going to be tough,” he said.

Senior officials at the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) – that manages the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple – and Malabar Devaswom Board (MDB) said they were yet to receive any communication from the RBI on the survey.