Thiruvananthapuram: On Friday, the Administrative Committee of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram informed the Supreme Court that the temple was going through ‘very difficult times’ financially and that the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple Trust (SPSTT) accounts for the past 25 years should be audited alongside the temple accounts for the same time period.
The committee, led by the Thiruvananthapuram District Judge, advised a Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit that it was required to determine how much of the temple’s property was in the trust’s possession. ‘My properties are also with the trust… In April 2014, the Supreme Court’s amicus curiae recommended that 25 years of accounts of both the temple and the trust should be audited… The trust used to care for the day to day expenses of the temple,’ senior advocate R. Basant, representing the committee, submitted.
In its July 2020 judgment upholding the Travancore royals’ right of shebaitship over the temple, the Supreme Court ordered an audit ‘as suggested by the amicus curiae.’ According to Basant, the court was referring to a report by then amicus curiae Gopal Subramanium, submitted to the court on April 15, 2014.
In his report, the amicus requested that former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai conduct a ‘special audit’ of the temple’s and SPSTT’s accounts for the past 25 years.
Mr. Basant said the temple and trust must be audited together, not separately. The court was hearing an application filed by the SPSTT seeking a declaration that it was an ‘independent entity distinct from Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple’.
SPSTT, represented by senior advocate Arvind Datar and advocate Shyam Mohan, said that it did not fall under the administrative control of either the Administrative Committee or Advisory Committee formed uner the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Endowments Act of 1950. ‘Will the audit of the accounts for the past 25 years extend to both the temple and the trust? We need a clarification… The trust has already been audited for the period between 2008 and 2014… Does it need to be audited for 25 years now,’ Mr. Datar asked.
Mr. Basant contended, ‘The temple is under great financial constraints. Its monthly expenses come to Rs 1.25 crore… That is why they [SPSTT] are asking to be excluded. The trust has Rs 2.89 crore of cash and Rs 1.95 crore of assets as per a report made by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai… Need to go into how much they have now…’.
Mr. Datar argued that the trust was open to the public. It was founded in 1965 by the former Travancore king with the purpose of ‘the perpetual continuation of the devotional offerings to the temple, other specified religious rite and certain functions integral to the royal family traditions…’ He said, ‘When the case came up before the Supreme Court, the initial investigation was only on the temple and not the trust. This was the position until the amicus curiae brought it up in 2014.’
Mr. Datar emphasized that it did not want the court to give the administrative committee any supervisory powers. ‘If My Lords wants the 25-year audit , we have absolutely no problem. But we are an independent entity. We have filed our income tax returns. We don’t want the committee to have any supervisory powers over us,’ he said.
The case was reserved for orders.