Monday, 4 July 2011

Who will rule over the Padmanabha swamy temple booty?

With the huge treasure trove that was unearthed from the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple estimated to be worth Rs 1 lakh crore, opinion seem divided on who would grab the piece of the juicy booty. With the state government under the leadership of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy declaring that the assets were the sole property of the temple, the dynamics have suddenly shifted after the massive asset haul that have left the whole of Kerala dumbfounded.

With a three-tier security in place, the state government has put in place an armed battalion under the instruction of Director-General of Police Venugopal K Nair. But here too there are limitations, with the areas within the temple complex guarded by temple guards considering the religious sensibilities.

The Devaswom (Temple affairs) Minister V S Sivakumar after convening a high-level meeting was quoted as saying, “We will go by the court direction in all matters related to the temple and its property.” With the future of the massive assets still undecided, a war of words has erupted on how to utilise the royal assets. One noted rationalist is believed to have said, “The wealth accrued by the rulers belongs to the people. It should go back to them. They cannot be claimed as religious property. The government should take them over and use it for public purpose.”

Countering all speculations, an official from the Kerala Council for Historical Research said that utilising the temple assets for the public is not possible under the 1868 Treasure Trove Act. The Act forbids the interference of the public in assets of temples or any such public institutions. He added, “Even though the high court has rejected the claim of current royal family head Uthradam Thirunaal Marthanda Varma over the property, he has a claim over it as the wealth has been under his custody in his capacity as the managing trustee of the temple.”

The issue came into the spotlight after the present head of the Travancore royal family Marthanda Verma claimed that the temple and its properties were that of his families. The matter led to a filing of a PIL stating that he was just a trustee of the temple. The judges declared, “Marthanda Varma or his successor in the royal family would not come within the description of “ruler” as defined under Article 366(22) of the Constitution. As per the Constitutional 26th Amendment of 1971, the President of India ceased to have authority to recognise any person as a ruler of an Indian State or a successor of such ruler.”

The court also observed that the present ruler was the state government and directed them to constitute a trust to take care of the temple assets. It was under the Supreme Court’s instructions that the massive treasure trove was recovered that were lying in dark cellar under stone slabs.

With no expectations on such a monstrous find, the war on who will gain access to the treasure trove is sure to get entangled in controversies. With the Rs 1 lakh crore assets lying unutilised in this temple, it also remains a fact that Kerala’s total public debt is only a mere Rs 70,969 crores.