Some right-wing Hindu outfits in Kerala have come out in the open against the Reserve Bank, which had written letters to some of the leading Hindu temples in the state last month seeking to collect data on the gold or bullion reserves with them.
Kerala is not only home to some of the richest temples in the country but they are also sitting on hundreds of tonnes bullion, with the Sree Padmanabha Swami temple in the state capital leading the chart.
While confirming that they have received such a letter from the RBI, top officials of some of the major temples said they are not taking any hasty decision on the matter without consulting the government and authorities concerned.
According to sources, two temples which received the RBI letter include the famous Sree Krishna temple at Guruvayur and the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that manages most temples in southern Kerala like the famous Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa visited by millions from across the world.
When contacted in Mumbai, the RBI spokesperson Alpana Killawala admitted that they have written to these temples but clarified that "the objective of the letter is to collect data and mentioned in the RBI statement issued on September 1, there is no proposal under its consideration (to buy gold and bullion from temples)."
Last year the Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple in the state capital shot into fame after it was discovered that the temple is home to gold jewellery worth trillions of rupees. At the then prevailing price it was said the haul was worth over Rs 1.3 trillion.
"This is for the first time that we are getting such a notice from the RBI. We have not decided how to respond to it as the temple managing committee is yet to be reconstituted by the government," a senior official of the Guruvayur Devaswom told PTI, requesting anonymity.
Earlier, towards the end of last month, there were media reports that the RBI was planning to buy idle gold from temples and convert it into bullion. The report had led to a ruckus in Parliament and the RBI admitted that it wrote to the temples seeking details and that meant to just get the data and not anything else.
According to reports, the gold at the major temples like the Tirumala in Andhra and other leading shrines are worth trillions of dollars.
Gold demand is cited as a major reason for rise in import of the precious metal, which is also one of the main reasons for the current account deficit (CAD) that has widened to a record 4.8 % of GDP in last fiscal.
India is the largest consumer of gold and last year the country shipped in 860 tonnes. It is estimated that the country sits over more than 30,000 tonne gold.
The RBI and the government have already taken various steps to control the gold import with a view to check CAD. The Centre recently raised customs duty on gold to 10 %.
The government has targeted a CAD at 3.7 % of GDP, or USD 70 billion, this fiscal against a record 4.8 % or USD 88.2 billion last fiscal.
However, traditional trustees of the Guruvayur temple, who are the permanent members of the managing committee, will be meeting soon to discuss the matter, sources said.
Located in the Thrissur district in central Kerala, the Guruvayur temple is one of the richest shrines in the country, which has at its disposal vast reserves of gold and other valuables, offered by devotees over the years.
"We have a system to properly account the gold and other precious articles gifted to the temple by devotees of Lord Guruvayurappan. They are kept in lockers and records are well maintained," a temple official said.
The Hindu outfits in the state have come out strongly against the RBI move, alleging foul-play behind it.
A joint memorandum has been given by various Hindu outfits, some of them non-political, urging the Guruvayur temple administration to ignore the circular, sources said.