The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple Trust’s petition seeking exemption from an audit of its income and expenditure for the last 25 years, Live Law reported.
Last year, the court had handed over the administration of the temple situated in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala from the former royal family of Travancore to a committee led by the district judge, according to Live Law.
The Supreme Court had then asked the committee to order an audit of the temple. A chartered accountancy firm was involved in the process.
After the firm asked the trust to submit financial records, it approached the Supreme Court. The trust argued that it had no role in the temple’s everyday administration and was created to oversee religious rituals, Live Law reported.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple Trust was formed in 1965 by the former ruler of Travancore for “the perpetual continuation of the devotional offerings to the temple, other specified religious rite and certain functions integral to the royal family traditions”, The Hindu reported.
The trust sought to be considered as an entity distinct from the temple and argued that it could not be included in the audit, NDTV reported.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices UU Lalit, Bela M Trivedi and Ravindra Bhat rejected this argument.
“It is clear that the audit was not intended to be confined to the temple only but also to the trust,” the judges said, according to Live Law.
Meanwhile, the temple’s administrative committee claimed that the trust was trying to evade its responsibilities. The committee’s lawyer R Basant told the Supreme Court that the temple was in financial distress.
“Both the accounts have to be audited,” the lawyer added. “The trust is constituted by the then ruler. The aims and objects are to meet the day to day expenses of the temple. It was found by the amicus that this trust was not discharging the duties. The temple properties are with the trust too.”
Past developments in the case
The sprawling Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple was rebuilt in its present form in the 18th century by the Travancore Royal House, which had ruled southern Kerala and some adjoining parts of Tamil Nadu before integration of the princely state with the Indian Union in 1947.
However, the historic temple has been mired in controversy amid charges of alleged financial irregularities against the administration.
In July 2020, the Supreme Court had upheld the rights of the Travancore royal family in the administration of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It had also approved the continuation of an interim committee under Thiruvananthapuram district judge to oversee the administration.
A bench headed by Justice UU Lalit had reversed an order passed by the Kerala High Court in 2011 that ruled the rights of the royal family over the temple ceased to exist with the death of the last ruler of the Travancore in 1991.
“Death will not affect the rights of shebaitship of the family over the deity and they will survive as per custom,” the Supreme Court had observed.
In 2011, one of the vaults of the temple was opened and is believed to have revealed a treasure trove of precious jewels estimated to be worth more than Rs 1 lakh crore, making it the richest temple in the world. The opening of “B Kallara” or Vault B was, however, put on hold, following objections from the royal family that it will invite divine wrath.