Black money in scrapped currency could be heading to religious placesblack money crackdown Updated: Nov 14, 2016 14:30 IST
Temple priests at Sanatan Dharm Temple in Noida’s Sector 19 check for scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in the donation box, on Wednesday.(Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)
The government’s abrupt move to withdraw high-value banknotes last week has sparked concern that illegal wealth in the now-scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes may be parked in hundis and religious places, where monitoring is usually lax.
Reports say Maharashtra’s charity commissioner’s office has already directed temple authorities to open donation (hundi) boxes only in the presence of authorised personnel to avoid the inflow of unaccounted banknotes.
There are also apprehensions that those with illegal cash could get their Rs 500 and 1,000 notes replaced by lower denominations in connivance with temple officials. This may defeat the purpose of the demonetisation scheme.
HT checked out preventive measures, or the absence thereof, at some of India’s best-known shrines:
1Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai
The 200-year-old temple at Prabhadevi has an annual collection of Rs 75-80 crore, 90% of which is in cash.
Once a week, officials from five banks count and segregate gold and cash collections. Every six months, collections are deposited with nationalised banks. The temple earns about Rs 30 crore per year as interest.
New steps: The temple trust has stopped accepting Rs 500 and 1,000 notes at cash counters, but devotees can deposit notes of those denominations in the ‘daan peti’ (donation box).
2Shirdi Saibaba temple, Shirdi
Some 20,000 pilgrims visit the shrine every year in Shirdi village of Maharashtra and the annual collection averages Rs 450-500 crore.
The temple’s worth is about Rs 1,700 crore and the interest earned annually is Rs 115 crore.
New steps: The temple has stopped taking Rs 500 and 1,000 notes at their cash counters, but such notes are still being deposited in the hundi. Officials say donations in hundi cannot be monitored or interfered with since it is supposed to be ‘gupt’ (secret).
3Golden Temple, Amritsar
Sri Darbar Sahib, which is best known as Golden Temple, receives about Rs 7 crore per month in donations to the ‘golaks’ (chests). There is no fixed golak in the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine. While paying obeisance, the devotees place the money on the empty space in front of the parkash (installation) of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy Sikh scripture. The ‘Sewadars’ (employees) who are deployed there put the money into a small chest placed on one side. The chest is replaced after it is brimmed.
New steps: Officials say the shrine will continue to accept banned currency via golaks. “We cannot ask anyone not to donate the banned notes even after December 31. In case somebody donates these notes, we would have no other option but to dispose them,” said an official.
4Tirumala temple, Tirupati
The Lord Venkateshwara Swamy temple in Andhra Pradesh’s Chitoor district is one of the richest shrines in the country, receiving an average of Rs 1,000 crore per year through donations.
Since devotees drop cash into hundis, the temple management does not keep track of the denominations being offered. It does not distinguish between donations as “black or white” or even whether they are counterfeit or foreign currency. They are weeded out only during counting.
New steps: Officials say donations cannot be monitored as it involves ‘matters of faith’.
5Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple, Thiruvananthapuram
The temple’s collection every year totals Rs 20 crore.
New steps: Since demonetisation, the temple has stopped collecting Rs 500 and 1,000 notes at its cash counters. It has introduced swiping machines for credit card transfers, but says pilgrims do not prefer to offer plastic money.
The temple has put up boards exhorting pilgrims to avoid donating in Rs 500 and 1,000 notes.
(With inputs from Amritsar, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram)