A Supreme Court bench of Justices UU Lalit and Indu Malhotra has left the decision of whether or not to to audit and create an inventory of the famed Padmanabha Swamy temple treasure to the administrative committee.
The Kerala High Court had directed the state government to open the underground vaults of the temple, make an inventory of the articles inside, and create a museum so that ordinary people can view the articles.
The High Court judgment had come in the wake of allegations that some people were pilfering the fabulous treasures stored in the deep underground vaults little by little.
The total value of the treasures is estimated at Rs 1 lakh cr (Rs 1 trillion or $13.3 billion).
The Supreme Court has now laid down certain procedures on how to set up this administrative committee. In the interim, the current committee headed by a district judge will continue to manage the temple.
The committee will be headed by a judge and will comprise only those from Hindu communities. It will have representation from central and state governments.
The museum, if set up, could become a major tourist attraction not just for Kerala, for but the country as a whole.
The Supreme Court also upheld some of the traditional rights of the royal family of Travancore over the temple.
The temple was earlier under the direct administration of the Travancore monarch.
The Supreme Court said the rights of shebaitship of the family will continue over the temple.
Shebaitship refers to the rights of an individual or body as a the ‘agent’ of the diety.
Supreme Court lawyer Jaimon Andrews said the decision that will have far reaching implications as far as inheritance laws are concerned.
The SC seems to have held that the rights of the king, who entered into an agreement with the government, does not lapse with his death and his property does not get transferred to the government.
According to the 1949 covenant with the Government of India, the monarch had the right to manage the affairs of the temple.
He was supposed to manage the temple with the aid of an executive council and a committee.
Historian MG Shashibhushan said such a committee was rarely constituted.
“What seems to have happened is that the court has asked for a committee to be constituted. What is not clear is who is going to decide the members of this committee,” he said.
Kerala Devaswom minister Kadakampalli Surendran seemed to indicate that the government was satisfied with the judgment and may not go for a review.
The government had argued that the royal family had lost its right to have a say in the management of the temple with the demise of the monarch who signed the covenant with Government of India.