The Administrative Committee of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram informed the Supreme Court on Friday 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, chaired by the Thiruvananthapuram District Judge, advised a Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit that it was important to determine how much of the temple’s property was in the trust’s possession.
The Supreme Court had ordered an audit “as proposed by the amicus curiae” in its July 2020 ruling maintaining the Travancore royals’ claim of shebaitship over the temple, according to the committee. “Along with my possessions, I have entrusted them to the trust… The Supreme Court’s amicus curiae urged in April 2014 that the temple and the trust’s accounts be audited for the previous 25 years. The trust used to take care of the temple’s day-to-day expenses,” said senior attorney R. Basant, who represented the committee.
Mr Basant said that the court was referring to a report filed on April 15, 2014, by senior attorney Gopal Subramanium, who was amicus curiae at the time.
In his report, the amicus suggested 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.
The temple and the trust, according to Mr Basant, could not be seen independently and needed to be audited together. The SPSTT had asked for a declaration that it was an “independent entity distinct from Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple,” and the court was hearing it. “Will the audit of the last 25 years’ finances include both the temple and the trust? A clarification is required. For the years 2008 through 2014, the trust has previously been audited. Mr Datar said, “Does it need to be audited for the last 25 years?”
“The temple is in dire financial straits,” Mr Basant claimed. It has a monthly budget of Rs. 1.25 crore. That is why they [SPSTT] have requested to be removed. According to a study by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai, the trust has 2.89 crores in cash and 1.95 crores in assets. It’s time to figure out how much they have now. Mr Datar argued that the trust was open to the public. It was established in 1965 by the then ruler of Travancore for “the permanent continuance of devotional offerings to the temple, other specified religious rites, and certain functions fundamental to the royal family traditions.”
Mr Datar emphasised that the court should not provide the administrative committee with any supervisory authority over it. “We have no objections to My Lords requesting a 25-year audit. However, we are a separate entity. Our tax returns have been submitted. He stated, “We don’t want the committee to have any supervisory authority over us.”
The matter was put on hold until the court could make a decision.