Over the past few years, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) has made quite a mess of running the 12th-century temple in Puri, Odisha. Now, outrage over nearly Rs 545 crore of temple money parked in the beleaguered Yes Bank has got a fresh lease of life. The SJTA had taken the decision unilaterally in March 2019 without informing the Temple Management Committee, in gross violation of rules.“How did the SJTA take the decision when anyone who knows anything about banking knew that Yes Bank was in the doldrums and had been sliding since 2017?” asks Kartik Chandra Das, a banker. In February, the Temple Management Committee decided to withdraw the amount and deposit it in a nationalised bank, as required under the rules. On March 6, law minister Pratap Jena said the money had been put in two term deposits that would mature on March 16 and 29, respectively, and that it would be duly deposited in a nationalised bank. He did not utter a word, though, on how the decision to park money in Yes Bank was taken in the first place, nor on any action against the officials responsible. The fresh concerns are a result of the moratorium announced by the RBI as there is apprehension over whether the bank would be able to honour its commitment of returning the money in three instalments on March 19, 23 and 29. A recent revelation that the Tirupathi Thirumala Devasthanam withdrew its entire deposit worth over Rs 1, 330 crore last October has further fuelled the anger.
No official is ready to come on record, but privately they say the decision was taken in good faith because of the higher interest rate (8.65 per cent) offered by Yes Bank. Financial experts refuse to buy the argument. “Safety should have been the priority. It has been known in financial circles for some time now that Yes Bank was in crisis,” says chartered accountant Rajiv Sahu.
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar