Reserving its order on opening vault B of Kerala’s Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, the Supreme Court Friday said it would take into account the traditions and faith of the temple and its devotees but without compromising on its security.
However, the court for now would focus on the recommendations of the expert committee on the question of security, preservation, conservation of the artefacts that have been found in other vaults.
The expert committee, headed by Director General of National Museum C.V. Ananda Bose, was set up by the apex court July 21 this year.
An apex court bench of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A.K. Patnaik Friday said: “Because of your faith and consequent absence of security, we can’t allow the treasure be stolen by the greedy people and thieves.”
The court said this when senior counsel M.N. Krishnamani contended that according to Devaprasnam ritual, vault B should not be opened. He said the Devaprasnam ritual was integral to the process of opening vault B.
Justice Raveendran said: “We are not anxious to break the tradition and faith of the temple and its devotees, but once it becomes inevitable, then some compromise had to be worked out.”
Justice Raveendran said that initially it was said that police, in their uniform, cannot enter the temple for security, but then a way was found by asking them to wear temple attire.
The court, in its directions to be pronounced Sep 21, will deal with the recommendations of the expert committee on replacing policemen with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel for the security of the six vaults and the sanction of the interim budget of Rs.2.98 crore for this purpose.
The expert committee has said the execution of the entire work, including preparing of inventory of the artefacts, steps for their preservation and conservation, and setting up of a museum, would take an year’s time.
The Kerala government has opposed the recommendations for handing over the security of the vaults to the CRPF.
The state has said that as it was to spend Rs.5 crore on the security of the temple, therefore the “interim budget” of Rs.2.98 crore required by the expert committee to execute its mandate should not be an open-ended one.
As the Kerala government sought to cap the expenses of the expert committee, Justice Patnaik observed that “so far it (temple) was running without incurring any expenditure”.
The court was told that the temple’s annual income from offerings and prayers was Rs.5 crore. Of this, Rs.4 crore was being spent on the employees, and Rs.1 crore on maintenance.
Senior counsel Dhruv Mehta, who appeared for one of the devotees who was petitioner before the trial court, said the one-year time sought by the committee to complete its task was a bit long and it should be “compressed”.
Rubies, diamonds, gold statues and coins found in the five vaults opened so far have been unofficially estimated to be valued at over Rs.1 lakh crore.