Lord Venkateswara Swamy, popularly known as Balaji, will be the biggest beneficiary of the gold monetisation scheme announced by the Narendra Modi government recently. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which runs the Balaji temple atop the Tirumala Hills in Tirupati, is mulling depositing around eight tonnes of gold under the scheme.
Already, the TTD has deposited six tonnes of gold and jewellery in three public sector banks — SBI, SBH and Indian Bank at a nominal interest rate of less than 1% per annum. However, after the new scheme was unveiled, the interest rate is going to be double at around 2%. The TTD will wait to see which bank offers the highest rate for its gold.
The problem for the TTD trust board is the fast piling up of gold reserves at the Lord Balaji temple, believed to be the wealthiest in the world. Until a few years ago, the Lord's hundi, where offerings are dropped, used to get a tonne of gold and jewellery in two years. However, of late, the gold and jewellery offerings have been growing fast and a tonne of gold gets accumulated in 9-10 months.
TTD chairman and former Tirupati MLA, Chadalavada Krishna Murthy told The Sunday Guardian on phone from Tirumala on Saturday that the trust board would take a decision on where to put the gold once the banks come up with their interest rates. "We are happy that devotees are coming forward to offer gold and jewellery to Lord Venkateswara, and every gram of gold will be preserved and protected," he said.
Under the new scheme, the total interest would be around Rs 45 crore per annum, while the present accruals are less than half of it, sources in the TTD said. The total value of the gold with TTD is estimated to be around Rs 2,500 crore. As per the guidelines of the monetisation scheme, the TTD can take a gold loan of up to 90% on its gold reserves.
The biggest relief to the trust board, which has 15,000 employees on its rolls, is the effective management of the gold and jewellery that come to its hundi. As most of the gold and jewellery is donated in small quantities — in the form of biscuits and ornaments — their sorting out and storing have become a headache for the temple authorities, often leading to charges of fraud and theft.
Two major banks have come forward to place a team of their staff at the hundi to revive the deposits on a daily basis. This will help in better accounting and auditing of the gold offerings received by the temple. "We will keep aside bigger objects weighing several kgs, which were donated for the specific purposes of the decoration of the Lord," a senior official said.
Today, Lord Balaji is perhaps the world's richest endowment, with fixed assets worth over Rs 35,000 crore and fixed deposits of around Rs 10,000 crore. If the fixed deposits fetch TTD an annual interest of around Rs 760 crore, the assets that include lands and buildings yield another Rs 150 crore per annum, according to an assessment made as per orders of the AP High Court in 2009.
In addition, the TTD, with an annual budget of around Rs 2,600 crore, receives huge donations for its various trusts and the TTD's main temple hundi gets offerings of around Rs 2 crore daily.