The Madras High Court was informed on Tuesday (October 12) that melting of gold jewellery belonging to the temples in Tamil Nadu was not a new phenomenon.
It was being done from 1977 and as much as five lakh grams of gold jewellery had been melted, Advocate-General R Shanmugasundaram told a vacation bench of Justices R Mahadevan and Abdul Quddhose, when the PIL petitions challenging the September 9 and 22 notifications of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department came up for hearing on October 12.
The AG told the judges that some people were creating a big fuss on the gold monetisation scheme now without being aware of the existence of the scheme since 1977.
The five lakh grams of gold was melted into bars and deposited in banks, which earned a revenue of Rs 11 crore to the state exchequer. The government has proposed to melt about 2,137 kg of gold jewellery at the government mint in Mumbai into gold bars and the same would be deposited in nationalised banks, the AG added.
Refuting charges of lack of transparency in the process, the AG told the bench that the HR&CE department had constituted a panel headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, assisted by two retired judges of the High Court, to monitor the entire process.
Citing a statement of the HR&CE minister that there are about 38,000 temples in possession of about 2,000 kgs of gold worth about Rs 10,000 crore, the petitioners submitted they were going to be melted. But the department, coming under a secular State, has no power to do so.
Its only function was to administer the temples. When the jewels and ornaments belonged to the temples, the department had no authority to touch the gold, the petitioners M Saravanan and Gopalakrishnan, contended.
The petitions stand adjourned till October 21.
(With inputs from agencies)