New Delhi: Ruling out the petition for exemption from an audit ordered -filed last year, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that the Padmanabhaswamy Temple Trust of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala will face an audit of income and expenses for the past 25 years.
A three-member bench of Justice UU Lalit, Justice SR Bhat and Justice Bela M Trivedi said the audit must include finances of both temple and trust and that it should take place in three months’ time.
Created by the former Travancore royal family, the Padmanabhaswamy Temple Trust had moved the court seeking exemption from an audit ordered by the top court last year.
The trust argued that since it had been constituted (on earlier orders by the court) only “to oversee the pujas and rituals of the Temple involving the family, with no role in the administration”, it is a distinct entity from the temple and could not be included in the call for an audit.
The temple’s administrative committee (headed by a district judge), however, argued that the iconic religious structure is under great financial stress – with donations and on-site collections below normal levels because of Covid – and that the trust had evaded its duty to meet daily expenses.
The court had been told the temple was “hardly getting ₹ 60-70 lakh (as against ₹ 1.25 crore in monthly expenses)” and needed financial contributions from the trust. The administrative committee also claimed the trust had ₹ 2.8 crore in cash and assets worth nearly ₹ 1.9 crore.
“The entire thing has to be gone into… how much temple money the temple is with the trust?”
The trust’s advocates then clarified that the objection was less to the audit than the trust itself being “subjected to the administrative committee”.
On Friday, after hearing the arguments, the court reserved its order.
Last year, the court handed over administration of the temple to a committee from the former Travancore royal family and ordered an audit of the temple’s income and expenses for 25 years.
The firm so engaged had asked the trust to submit its income and expenditure records.
The trust then approached the court to counter this request.
Last year legal heirs of the former ruler of Travancore challenged a Kerala High Court judgment that said the family had no rights over the temple.
The Supreme Court recognised ‘shebait’ rights, or rights of individuals who serve the deity, but handed administration to the committee headed by a Thiruvananthapuram district judge.