Storm over Tirumala temple’s 1400 kg gold transfer, Telangana orders probe
A flying squad of the Election Commission had detained a truck carrying the gold from the Chennai branch of Punjab National Branch at Tiruvalluvar in Tamil Nadu on April 17.
The Andhra Pradesh government on Sunday ordered a high-level inquiry by a senior officer into the lapses in the administration of the Tirumala temple following a controversy over the alleged “unauthorized” transportation of 1,381 kilograms of gold belonging to the from a nationalized bank in Chennai four days ago stoked a controversy.
On Monday, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), that manages the country’s richest temple dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara on Tirumala hills, refuted the charges of any negligence on its part in transporting the gold worth over Rs 400 crore and blamed the Punjab National Bank for the controversy.
The drama began to unfold after a special flying squad of the Election Commission detained a truck carrying the gold from the Chennai branch of Punjab National Branch at Tiruvalluvar in Tamil Nadu on the evening of April 17, a day before polling in that state. The gold was being transported allegedly without valid documents and proper security.
The Tamil Nadu police then detained the truck and informed the Income Tax authorities as well. When the person accompanying the gold told the authorities that they were transporting the gold to TTD treasury, they consulted the TTD, which initially denied that the gold seized in Tiruvallur belonged to it, but later confirmed the same and produced a letter to that effect. It was only two days later that the Election Commission authorities ordered release of the seized gold.
Following the episode, Andhra Pradesh chief secretary L V Subrahmanyam directed special chief secretary (revenue) Manmohan Singh to visit Tirumala to inquire into specific lapses, if any on the part of Punjab National Bank and the TTD. Singh flew down to Tirumala on Monday to conduct the inquiry. He will submit the report by Tuesday.
Meanwhile, TTD executive officer Anil Kumar Singhal told reporters in Tirumala that the TTD had gold reserves of 9,259 kilograms and the entire quantity of the yellow metal was safe.
“As per the Gold Deposit Scheme introduced on April 1, 2000, the TTD deposited the gold in various nationalized banks, including 5,387 kgs in State Bank of India and 1,381 kg in PNB. We pay 1.5 per cent of the value to the banks towards handling charges, besides one per cent towards commission,” he explained.
He said the gold deposits made in the PNB on April 18, 2016, were to mature on April 18, 2019. “We have to take the approval of the board to deposit the same in another bank or continue in the same bank. So, we had written to the PNB authorities on March 27 about returning the gold deposits back to the TTD treasury before the expiry of the term,” he said.
Singhal pointed out that it was responsibility of the PNB authorities to transport the gold by making adequate security arrangements till the gold reached the TTD treasury. “We are no way concerned with the transport or security arrangements, as we are paying handling charges to the bank. It was for the bank authorities to produce relevant documents when the EC authorities seized the truck,” the official clarified, adding that the TTD had got back its gold from the bank.