Padmanabha Temple: SC Asks Subramaniam to Continue as Amicus

The Supreme Court today asked senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam to reconsider his decision to withdraw himself as amicus curaie and continue to assist it on the row over the administration and management of Kerala's famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple.

The apex court kept in abeyance former Solicitor General Subramaniam's plea seeking his discharge as amicus curaie and asked him reconsider his decision as he spent considerable time to go into the nitty gritty of the controversy surrounding the temple which is facing charges of financial irregularites.

"In view of the fact that Subramaniam has spent considerable time and in view of the nature of issues, we would ask him to reconsider his decision for discharge in the matter and think of continuing. We ask him to communicate about his decision after reconsideration," a bench comprising justices T S Thakur and A R Dave said.

The bench, which was ready to accept Subramaniam's plea, was requested by the counsel, appearing for some devotees, that he should be asked to continue as he has done tremendous work over the time.

He also raised objections to the submissions made by members of Travancore's royal family that Subramaniam as an amicus curaie overreached his mandate by levelling serious allegations against them in his report.
Subramaniam had withdrawn his consent to become a judge of the apex court after several allegations, including the one relating to his work as amicus curaie in the Padmanabha temple case, were raised.

Unhappy with the entire episode, he had written a letter to the Chief Justice of India that he would not appear in the apex court during his tenure.

Senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the head of the royal family Sri Rama Verma, alleged Subramaniam acted as a "detective" and CBI people and even intruded into the private palace.

He said the amicus even interfered with the rituals of the temple.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for female members of the royal family, submitted he would also file objections to Subramaniam's report.

The two-hour long hearing was utilised for apprising the newly-formed bench about the history of the temple and the dispute surrounding it.

At the end, the bench allowed the plea of Venugopal to have the copies of the reports of Subramaniam, former Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai and that of the Chairman of the court-appointed Administrative Committee and Executive Committee to file response and objections within four weeks.

It also allowed his clients to inspect all documents and records of the temple.

The bench also extended its interim order of April 24 allowing the Chairman and the Executive officer to be on leave for another four months and listed the matter for hearing on November 11.

The apex court had on April 24 ordered that Rai, former CAG, will supervise special audit of property of the temple and constituted a new administrative committee headed by the District Judge, Thiruvananthapuram.

The court had clarified that until further order "no property of the temple will be alienated, sold or dealt with in any manner" and in case the District Judge comes from the community other than the Hindu, the next seniormost judge of the Hindu faith in the district will be the administrative committee's Chairman. (more)

Subramaniam had apprised the court about his April 15 report in which he has highlighted several serious irregularities in the management of the temple and its wealth.

He had sought a direction from the court for restraining the present trustee and his family members from interfering either directly or indirectly with the day-to-day management of the temple.

He had submitted that there was a need for an independent management of the temple so that officials can carry out their functions freely and fearlessly.

Venugopal, appearing for the scion of Travancore Royal family, had earlier raised objections to Subramaniam's report, to which the bench had said parties, including Kerala government, will be given a chance to respond to the findings in the report.

Venugopal had said it was also not correct on the part of the committee of experts to make inspection of the residential area of the royal family which is separated from the temple complex. 

Senior advocate K V Vishwanathan, appearing for Kerala government, had also disputed some points made by Subramaniam on the cleaning of tanks in the temple, the contract for which has been given to a private party and will cost around Rs 90 lakh.

Subramaniam had said huge amounts of gold and silver donated by devotees have never been reported by trustees and those were also never accounted or audited and there has been no valuation of those metals for 30 years. For 10 years, the temple did not file income tax return despite getting exemption benefit.

Besides, a gold plating machine hidden in the temple was found, making it mandatory that somebody independent must monitor the auditing of gold and silver, he had said.

The senior advocate had also said that during one month between February and March, Rs 1.29 crore money was offered by devotees.

He had said there were discrepancies in the number of bank accounts. While trustees claim only 14 accounts in five banks, there are 34 bank accounts in 17 banks.

In his 577-page report, Subramaniam had sought an order for audit of the wealth of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple by Vinod Rai.

The temple has six vaults, most of which are underground and are filled with priceless articles. During preparation of its inventory by the apex court-appointed panel, five of these vaults were opened, leaving out one chamber, called 'vault (Kallara) B'.

The apex court had appointed an expert committee for scientifically documenting the temple's treasure.

The panel comprises experts from ISRO, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), the Centre for Earth Sciences Studies and top officials of the Kerala Police.

The sprawling temple, an architectural splendour in granite, 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 Indian Union in 1947.

Even after India's independence, the temple continued to be governed by a trust controlled by the erstwhile royal family for whom Lord Padmanabha (Vishnu) is their family deity.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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