Bench distressed at condition of Padmanabhaswamy temple

The Supreme Court, expressing concern at shortcomings in maintenance of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, has directed the expert committee to strengthen kallaras (vaults) for preserving and protecting precious ornaments, jewels and artefacts kept in them.

After going through the report of amicus curiae Gopal Subramanium, a Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and A.K. Patnaik ordered that in the first instance kallara C be strengthened, instead of kallara A as sought by the expert committee in its April interim report.

During the resumed hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Subramanium submitted the 93-page report on the conditions in the temple and gave 87 suggestions for improving maintenance, strengthening the kallaras and continuance of religious rituals as per Agama sastras.

He said he had obtained firsthand information from devotees, priests, members of the expert and oversight committees, and an inventory had been completed in two of the five kallaras. The court-appointed committees were doing exemplary work with maximum confidentiality. He said he had an interaction with the Royal family of Marthanda Varma, held in high esteem by the people, and the King was in complete agreement on preserving the purity of the temple.

After going through the suggestions on temple maintenance, Justice Lodha said: “I am distressed if this is the present condition of the temple despite all meaningful persons [being] at the helm of affairs.” Justice Patnaik added: “In this fight [over] whether the State will take over maintenance or it will rest with the Royal family, if worship and devotion is neglected, then [the] whole thing goes.”

Senior counsel K. K. Venugopal, appearing for the King, disputed this claim and said Kerala temples were the cleanest, the priests were clean and all rituals were being followed. Out of the temple income of Rs. 5 crore, Rs. 4 crore was spent on staff salary and Rs. 1 crore was left for maintenance. From this amount, already Rs. 25 lakh had been provided for security. Whatever the measures suggested should not increase the temple’s financial burden.

At this, Justice Lodha said in a lighter vein, “God is powerful enough to generate money, don’t worry about money.”

Mr. Venugopal said he would respond to the amicus’ suggestions and the court could pass orders thereafter. Senior counsel Dhruv Mehta, counsel Vipin Nair, counsel S. Balaji and counsel for Kerala also pleaded for time to file their response to the suggestions. However, on strengthening kallara A there was agreement among counsel.

In a brief order, the Bench said: “We are informed that the cost of strengthening of kallara A would be Rs. 81 lakh, of which two-thirds would be borne by the State of Kerala and one-third by the temple management.” It asked the expert committee to begin work on strengthening it at the earliest, and both the State and the temple management would give their share within one week of the date of demand raised by the committee. During the period of strengthening, valuables there would be shifted to kallara C and after the work was over, they should be restored to kallara A.

Further hearing is posted to December 12.

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