India is the world’s biggest consumer of gold and its ancient temples have collected billions of dollars in jewellery, bars and coins over the centuries — all hidden securely in vaults, some ancient and some modern. … Now, the Narendra Modi government reportedly wants to get his hands on this temple gold, estimated at about 3,000 tonnes, more than two-thirds of the gold held in the U.S bullion depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to help tackle India’s chronic trade imbalance.
The Modi government is planning to launch a scheme in May that would encourage temples to deposit their gold with banks in return for interest payments, it is said. The government is likely to melt the gold and loan it to jewellers to meet an insatiable appetite for gold and reduce economically-crippling gold imports, which accounted for 28 per cent of India’s trade deficit in the year ending March 2013.
Even if the plan succeeds, it’s still not nearly as good as converting the gold into cash directly to help the poor. Why would gods be interested in precious metals in the first place? It boggles the mind that more and more gold accrues to Hindu temples and none of it is used for anything but adornments, at best. A lot of the yellow metal just sits uselessly in vaults, hidden away for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.
Changing this desperately dumb practice won’t be easy:
A top official at the Vishway Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, said the organization opposed any effort to monetize temple gold, despite “full support” for Mr. Modi’s government. “For thousands of years, Hindu society has donated this gold to temples whose trusts have safeguarded it,” said Vyankatesh Abdeo, the organization’s all-India secretary. “Our wealth is in gold; the government’s evil eye is on this wealth. This is absolutely wrong, and we oppose this move. This wealth is God’s, not the government’s.”
According to Reuters,
A Mumbai-based gold merchant, who said he and his father had donated 200 kg [441 pounds] of gold to Siddhivinayak and other temples over the years, said it would be a sin for the temples to earn interest on the gold offered to the gods. “I make donations to God; not to any temple trust,” the 52-year-old merchant said. Mr. Modi would also like to convince Indians to open their family vaults, which hold an estimated 17,000 tonnes of gold in jewellery and other heirlooms.
But some inroads have been made, reports the New York Times:
On Tuesday, devotees were plunging forward in a crush of bodies at Shree Siddhivinayak Ganpati, thrusting offerings of flowers and sweets toward a black stone idol of the elephant-headed deity Ganesh. A woman stood facing the idol with closed eyes, lips moving, her face creased with pain. Outside, temple authorities were auctioning off donated gold jewelry to raise cash, which they said would be used for charitable purposes.
It’s a start, I guess.
(Image via Shutterstock)