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Monday, August 30, 2010

'Tirupati jewellery pilfered, replaced with fakes': India : India Today

'Tirupati jewellery pilfered, replaced with fakes'
Priyamvatha
Tirumala (Andhra Pradesh), August 27, 2010

A Rs 50,000-crore scam of pilfering jewellery and replacing them with fakes has been unearthed at the Tirupati shrine in Andhra Pradesh.

A Headlines Today special investigation has found that jewellery donated by devotees at the 9th century temple of Lord Venkateswara in the Tirumala Hills is systematically getting replaced with fakes.

A good part of the jewellery was donated by the 16th century Vijaynagar king Krishnadevaraya.
Headlines Today has accessed the internal inventory section report of the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD) as well as the vigilance and security wing report prepared by the TTD executive officer.

A scan of the inventory shows how the jewellery has been depleting annually. Pieces from the gold and diamond-studded crowns, ornaments, armours, miscellaneous decorations and pots and plates have been disappearing.

The inventories have been routinely devaluing the missing pieces. Wear and tear has been shown as the main cause for devaluation.

For example, the loss of stones during 2005-2006 has been shown to be worth a mere Rs 23,850. The loss of gold due to wear and tear in the same period is worth Rs 15,300. The loss of stones during the next financial year is worth Rs 29,290 and that of gold is Rs 24,835.

It's surprising that the inventories talk of the weight and number of gems and jewels but not their antiquity.

The matter has become more controversial with the Thursday night death of TTD employee B. Suresh, who is thought to be a whistleblower in the scam. Suresh, who worked in TTD's accounts department, is said to have committed suicide.

In his suicide note, Suresh allegedly accused senior officers of the TTD of mentally harassing him and threatening to implicate him in false cases. Suresh's death has sparked protests from employees of the temple.

Headlines Today also accessed the 2008 vigilance report of the chief vigilance and security officer who indicted officials, including P. Seshadri, responsible for the safe-keeping of the jewellery.

Among the wealth the treasury contains is Srivari jewellery (the Lord's jewels), roughly estimated to be worth over Rs 50,000 crore. The Srivari jewellery used to be under the custody of mirasidars. A mirasidar would take charge of the jewels for a year and hand it over to the next mirasidar after that period.

After the abolition of the mirasidar system, the Srivari jewellery - including the double keys - is under physical possession of P. Seshadri for the last 10 years.

The report of the chief vigilance and security officer of TTD reveals that 300 gold coins weighing 5 grams each were swindled between 2001 and 2006 from the temple.

The report holds K. Venkatachalapathi of the Gold Dollar Sales Counter responsible for selling the coins without issuing any receipts to the pilgrims. The misappropriation resulted in a loss of over Rs 15 lakh. The Bokkasam (treasury) clerk, deputy executive officer (temple) and others knew about the loss but hushed up the matter for close to two months.

The scam has invited outrage and demands for action against the guilty. TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu alleged that the temple administration was in collusion with anti-social elements and called for a probe.

Congress leader K. Keshava Rao said: "There should be a probe. Nothing can happen without the involvement of insiders."

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