Chennai: After the Siddhivinayak temple decided to move 40kg of its gold reserves to the government-sponsored Gold Monetisation Scheme, the Shirdi Sai Baba temple has made a similar pledge, but on a much larger scale.
The trust caretakers executive officer Bajirao Shinde, district collector Anil Kawade, and district judge Shrikant Kulkarni — confirmed the plan to deposit the gold in the government scheme and said they were looking at ways to get the high court ban lifted. “We are meeting next week to work out a solution. We may file a review petition against the ban,” Shinde said. “The ornaments on Sai Baba’s idol weigh around 180kg and those will not be removed,” he added.
But the glitch is the Bombay high court ban on the temple trust from melting the gold that has been offered by the devotees over the years.
In March 2012, the high court disbanded the 15-member committee of the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust, which manages the Sai Baba temple at Shirdi, and installed a three-member panel till the new committee was formed, following a public interest litigation by two Shirdi residents.
Seven months later, the high court stayed the temple trust’s decision to put on auction gold, silver and diamond articles the temple had received from devotees, after the petitioners argued that the devotees had offered these precious articles as offerings to Sai Baba, and not for the purpose of raising money.
The Sai Baba temple in Shirdi, which is the richest temple in the state alongside the Siddhivinayak temple in Prabhadevi, and among the top five richest shrines in the country, owns 380kg gold. If it succeeds in investing 200kg gold in the Gold Monetisation Scheme, it will earn an annual interest of Rs 1.25 crore, which will be in additional to the temple trust’s annual turnover of around Rs 350 crore.
Shinde said that if the court allows the trust to deposit the gold, it can expand the charities using the interest money. “We intend to use the money to help those in need of medical treatment. Also, the move will lift the pressure on the trust to maintain heavy security to safeguard the gold,” Shinde said.
He said that the trust annually spends around Rs 250 crore on providing free food, shelter, and medical facilities. On an average 50,000 people visit Shirdi every day, and the number passes 1 lakh on special days.
“Of these, nearly 40,000 people avail of free meals, which are offered as prasad. Every year, around 35,000 people are treated free of cost in two hospitals managed by the temple trust,” said Appasaheb Shinde, deputy executive officer of the trust.