Tirupati: The seizure of 1,381 kg of gold that belongs to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, by the poll squad in Chennai on April 17, has kicked off a controversy and created a storm on social media. There are allegations that there was something suspicious on the part of the TTD in the episode. Several Hindu activists and politicians even took to the streets and social media to place demands before government to launch a probe on the episode by either the CBI or a sitting judge.
With the series of allegations, the temple administration has received bad publicity in all circles, forcing it into a situation of giving explanations. However, when Deccan Chronicle dug into the episode, it was learnt that the TTD seems to have followed proper guidelines in the release of its gold deposits from the Punjab National bank (PNB).
The background of the episode was that TTD deposited 1,311 kg of gold with PNB on April 17, 2016, for a period of three years under the short-term gold monetisation scheme introduced by the Central government. Interest was fixed at 1.75 per cent and it has to be paid in the form of gold by the bank on maturity.
“With the deposit matured on April 19 this year, the financial sub-committee from the TTD trust board met on March 20 and decided to withdraw the gold deposits from the PNB. The decision was taken after the sub-committee opined to explore other schemes of gold deposits which would benefit the institution,” TTD EO Anil Kumar Singhal told this newspaper.
“After the sub-committee submitted its written suggestions, I sent a communication to the PNB on March 27, seeking the return of the gold to the TTD treasury in the administrative building in Tirupati. Under the agreement the gold has to reach the TTD treasury on or before April 18 and the bank should take the entire responsibility of returning the gold,” the EO said.
Unfortunately, a poll squad led by S. Chellapandi, who was on duty near Puduchatram village on the Chennai-Tiruvallur highway, seized the gold, which was being transported to the TTD treasury on April 17. The poll squad, which intercepted the three vehicles that were armed with 10 guards, found 56 boxes containing nearly 22 kg gold in two of the vehicles. After the gold seizure, utter confusion prevailed when some TTD officials refused to confirm whether the gold belonged to the TTD or not.
It is learnt that when the TTD asked the PNB to return the gold, the bank is said to be placed an order to procure 1,381 kg of gold from ANZ Bank in Zurich of Switzerland and also roped in the services of Sequel Logistics, a leading service provider with a global presence in the field of critical logistics to cover the aspects of customs clearance, security and transportation.
Sequel Logistics then transported the gold from Switzerland to Chennai where customs clearance was also done after submitting the necessary tax receipts, authenticity letters, etc. It is said that the logistics handler also gave prior intimation to the Election Commission about the transportation of gold and relevant documents of clearance were also sent to the respective district administrations to avoid any trouble while transporting the gold to Tirupati via Chennai, Tiruvallur and Tiruttani in Tamil Nadu.
Poll squad officials, after seeing such a huge amount of gold, seized it, to avoid unnecessary risks. They released the gold only after receiving release orders from their higher officials, it is learnt from sources.
Meanwhile, as per the agreement laid down between the TTD and PNB, the responsibility of safeguarding the gold and returning it lies with the bank until it reaches the TTD treasury.
“Following the guidelines of medium term and long term deposits given by the Government of India (GoI), we deposited our gold in banks. The GoI gives 1.5 per cent on handling charges and 1 per cent commission to banks. Handling charges are towards gold purity testing, refining, transportation, storage and other costs incurred by banks. The total responsibility of handing over the gold to the TTD treasury at the administration building, Tirupati lies purely with the PNB, as per guidelines,” TTD EO Mr Anil Kumar Singhal clarified....