The Reserve Bank of India, which has been making gold imports more difficult through a series of restrictions, is discussing with banks on how to convince temple trusts to deposit their hoard of idle jewellery that could be converted into bullion, said two bankers familiar with the matter.
They refused to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue. The Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh, Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Maharashtra, Siddhivinayak at Mumbai and Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram are among the richest in India with huge reserves of gold and precious metals.
In fact, the roofs of many temples, such as the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, and Tirupati are covered with gold. RBI is counting on banks handling the accounts of these temple trusts to convince them to convert their huge gold deposits into cash, the bankers said.
No certainty of any deal
Gold imports worth $53.6 billion last year are blamed for the rupee's slide, accounting for 61% of the current account deficit in fiscal 2013. Although the government and RBI acknowledged that high inflation provoked investors to chase gold, both have of late been trying to discourage imports of the precious metal. The rupee lost nearly a quarter of its value this year, but has since recovered.
"The finance minister and RBI governor should jointly — and immediately — approach the trustees of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD)," said Jamal Mecklai, chief executive of Mecklai Financial. "Three of these (trustees) are state government appointees, and given the current political dispensation this is a distinct advantage. They should, of course, offer prayers. That will be an opportunity for the hugely rich trusts to make additional amounts of money."
Tirupati is among the world's richest temples with an estimated gold hoard of about 1,000 tonnes, nearly double of India's estimated imports this year. The country, as a whole, is estimated to have a gold stock of 18,000-30,000 tonnes. The temple trusts, however, do not seem inclined towards such a plan, at least for now.
"There are no plans to do such a thing. There have no discussions with RBI," said a spokesman at TTD. Some banks run gold deposit schemes where individuals deposit the yellow metal for 3-7 years.