HR&CE Dept. seeks Madras High Court permission to start temple gold pre-melting process

It says that a retired Supreme Court judge is of the view that gold cannot be inventorised properly without removing foreign materials

Published - February 20, 2022 12:28 pm IST - CHENNAI

The judges granted two weeks’ time for the petitioners to file their rejoinder. 

The judges granted two weeks’ time for the petitioners to file their rejoinder.  | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department has sought the permission of the Madras High Court to commence temple gold pre-melting process such as removal of lac, copper and other foreign materials from the ornaments that had been donated by devotees but found unfit for decorating the deities.

In a counter affidavit filed before the first Division Bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy, the department said it would be difficult to properly ascertain the exact quantity of gold available with individual temples without removing the foreign materials from the ornaments.

The counter was filed in response to public interest litigation petitions filed by Indic Collective Trust, temple activist T.R. Ramesh and others challenging the department’s decision to melt gold ornaments that had been dropped by devotees into the hundials (offering boxes) placed in temples under the control of the HR&CE Department.

Answering the objections raised by the petitioners, the department said the practice of melting gold ornaments not required for temple use and depositing the precious metal in investment schemes, approved by the Reserve Bank of India, for generating income to the individual temples had been in vogue since 1979.

The Religious Institutions Custody of Jewels, Valuables and Documents and Disposal Rules of 1963 permit the trustees as well as Fit Persons to melt temple jewels, including those that had been donated by devotees, with the sanction of the competent authority under the HR&CE Act of 1959, the department said.

Pointing out that the government had now constituted a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and two former High Court judges to supervise the process of the taking inventory of the temple gold, the department said the committee head wanted certain clarifications from the first Division Bench.

In a letter to the HR&CE Commissioner on December 9, the retired Supreme Court judge D. Raju had said the exact quantity of the gold available with individual temples could be inventorised properly only if the pre-melting process of removing foreign materials from the ornaments could be allowed to be undertaken.

Therefore, the department urged the court to permit the pre-melting process. After taking the counter affidavit on file, the judges granted two weeks’ time for the petitioners to file their rejoinder.

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