RBI to assist in setting up vault for Padmanabha gold

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Feb 28 2012, 09:20am hrs
A Supreme Court-appointed committee has directed the Reserve Bank of India ( RBI) to give technical handholding in setting up a foolproof state-of-the-art vault to preserve the Padmanabhaswamy temple treasure.

The recent discovery of a treasure-trove of gem-studded jewellery, gold idols, Napolean-era coins and antique utensils in six secret vaults of the temple , reportedly worth close to R1.2 lakh crore ($26.4 billion), had pegged Padmanabha temple as one of the richest temples in the world.

A seven-member committee, appointed by the Supreme Court, engaged in scientific documentation of temple treasure, has advised the Kerala government that a new vault is necessary for the safe-keeping of the valuables. The committee will come out with a clear-cut security blueprint for the new vault.

Expertise of RBI, VSSC and Keltron, whose representatives are already in the committee, will be drawn to finalise the vault plans, a member of the committee told FE. The models of RBI vaults will be utilised. In any case, the report on the proposed new vault will be ready in three weeks, he said.

The process of documentation of the valuables found from the secret vaults is on, under high security. The documentation panel includes gemologists, jewellers and curators of antiques. This is recorded using CCTV cameras. Keltron is responsible for digital archiving of visual details of the articles.

The items include a three-and-a-half feet tall gold icon of Vishnu, with four hands, a 30-kg gold robe for the main idol and coconut-shell size gold vessels, studded with rubies and emeralds.

One of the six secret vaults the mysterious B vault is yet to opened, because of socio-religious compulsions. Belief reigns strong among the devotees of Padmanabha deity that misfortunes would be unleashed in the land if vault B was opened. There is a hooded cobra engraved in the iron-door of this vault, says the committee member.

The Kerala government has offered to spend about R30-crore on a security for the temple, with its newly-acquired Richie Rich tag.

Out of its initial R9-crore security plan, the state has already installed 58 CCTV cameras on vital locations in and around the temple to ensure safety and 24x7 surveillance. However, it is understood that Jacob Punnose, DGP, Kerala, had expressed some reservations about shouldering such a cumbersome responsibility single-handedly. It was also in view of the apprehensions of state police, that the SC-appointed panel has mooted a new safety vault that utilises the new generation technology.

Although preliminary estimates of Padmanabha temple treasure far outstrips in value the rich Balaji temple of Tirupati ( said to have assets to the tune of $7.04 billion), legal opinion is divided as to whether the state government or the Centre can claim command of it.

The temple is run by a trust headed by erstwhile royal family of Travancore. Both the Oommen Chandy government and the custodian family are united that the treasure should be preserved for its historic value, rather than turned to liquid cash for public utilisation.