Temples now the only hope for gold industry?
The glitter has gone out of the gold industry and it is hoping for divine intervention - but of a different kind - to breakout from the negative phase. Industry stakeholders feel if India's gold-rich temples part with at least half of their treasure, this will save the government from importing the yellow metal for at least four to five months.
"I feel that if the temples sell part of their gold, the country do not import gold for five to six months. The consumption of gold in India will remain static, no matter how much the government asks citizens not to buy gold. The market is going through a slump," Harshad Ajmera, a director of the All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation, told IANS.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Pankaj Parekh, vice chairman, Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, who said a partial release of temple gold can not only save the country from foreign exchange outflows but can even help in export earnings.
"If the temples release some of their gold, the country need not import this for another four-five months. It will be win-win situation for both the government and the temples. The government will save a lot of foreign exchange," he added.
All this is predicated on building consensus between the temples on parting with some of their gold.
There were reports that the RBI had sent a circular to some of India's prominent temples seeking details of their gold stocks. Three of the richest temples have, however, denied receiving such a circular.
"We have not received any request from the RBI as of now. The gold is with the treasury department and we cannot give any estimation. We get around Rs.2 crore as hundis (offerings) everyday," a spokesperson of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam in Andhra Pradesh told IANS.
Kerala's Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple, which dates back almost 5,000 years, is also believed to have enormous amount of gold, precious stones, rare coins and idols.
"We have not received any letters from the RBI seeking any information regarding the temple gold. We have no estimation of the temple treasury. This temple dates back to thousands of years and offerings to Padmanabhaswamy have been made since then. It is difficult to even hypothetically give any estimation," an executive director of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple told IANS.
M.V.Nair, chief of the expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court for drawing up an inventory of the temple's wealth, told IANS: "We are asked to document the inventories of the temple. We are reporting directly to the Supreme Court. Our parametres for working are restricted. The Supreme Court will decide what it will do with the findings. We are working in this project for the last one year and hope to complete the project by December."
An official of the Chidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu also denied of receiving any letter from RBI.
The RBI and the government have already adopted many steps to control the import of gold to arrest the current account deficit. The government recently raised customs duty on gold to 10 percent.
Import of gold swelled 87 percent from 205 tonnes in April-July 2012 to 383 tonnes during the corresponding period of 2013. Last year, 900 tonnes of gold was imported. After oil, gold amounts for India's second highest import bill.
The current price of gold is around Rs.30,375 per 10 grams. No imports have taken place since July 22.
(Aparajita Gupta can be contacted at aparajita.g@ians)
(Posted on 16-09-2013)