The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department Commissioner R. Jaya appeared before the Madras High Court on Wednesday and filed a counter-affidavit stating that her department had sought the assistance of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras in purchasing closed circuit television cameras of good resolution which could help prevent theft of ancient idols from temples across the State.
Justice R. Mahadevan was told that Inspector General of Police A.G. Pon Manickavel, appointed as the head of Idol Wing-Criminal Investigation Department on the basis of court orders passed last year, had expressed dissatisfaction over the quality of CCTV cameras already installed in the strong rooms of the 11,512 temples in the State though such cameras were purchased in consultation with the district police concerned.
Therefore, a request has been made to IIT-Madras to provide the specifications of CCTV cameras that would be able to capture images well even during night hours, she said. The Commissioner also stated that instructions had been issued to the Executive Officers of all the temples, equipped with CCTV cameras, to watch the CCTV footage on a daily basis and report any untoward incident to the officials concerned.
‘Only 56 traced’
Conceding that idols do get stolen despite the security measures put in place, the Commissioner said, “as per records available with this deponent from the year 1992-2017, it was reported by the temple authorities that 372 stone idols and 832 icons belonging to 387 temples were stolen. “It is noteworthy that out of more than 1,200 thefts reported, only 56 have been traced and in only 18 cases possession was restored to the temples.
“Further, in cases involving theft of 385 icons/idols from 33 temples, complaints have been closed with the item being declared as not traceable by the police department.” Ms. Jaya stated. After taking her counter-affidavit on file, the court adjourned to Monday further hearing on the cases taken up by it with the intention of preventing the theft and smuggling of ancient idols to foreign countries through international networks.
The Commissioner said that 38,635 religious institutions in the State were under the control of the department and 36,595 of them were temples. However, only 305 of those temples had an annual income over ₹10 lakh each and the income of 598 of them was between ₹2 lakh and ₹10 lakh. It was also stated that the income of 3,505 temples was between ₹10,000 and ₹2 lakh and that a majority of 32,817 temples had revenue of less than ₹10,000 a year.
These 32,817 temples do not get sufficient funds even for their daily requirements such as performance of puja to the deities at least once a day. Therefore, it was with the surplus funds from just 331 religious institutions that the department was able to provide money for its own upkeep, tiruppani (temple maintenance) works as well as the obligation to meet out the gap between the income and expenditure of needy religious institutions.
So far, strong rooms had been constructed in 11,512 temples to protect the idols as well as the jewels and all of them had been equipped with CCTV cameras, burglar alarms, tell tale clocks, iron grill gates and inner lock system; security personnel have also been deployed. Further, 34 high-security Icon Centres had been constructed in select temples in the State for protecting the idols, and 19 of them had already started functioning.
The rest would become operational in another three months, the officer said. She also said that 3,36,000 idols belonging to 31,000 temples had been photographed and those images were uploaded on the web portal of the department so that authorised personnel could check the details as and when required. An Integrated Temple Management System was also being developed and it was expected to be in place within a year.