The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is unable to pay Rs 11.7 crore to the Kerala government – to reimburse the state for security and maintenance-related expenses – because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a temporary administrative committee told the Supreme Court on Friday.
The committee, one of two constituted by the court in July last year to manage temple affairs till arrangements are made by the former royal family of Travancore, said donations had been affected because of the pandemic, and sought additional time to pay the amount.
The court said it would not pass an order at this time. “Let the (Kerala) government consider the request,” the top court said, adding that all its previous orders in the case had been followed.
Regarding the audit of temple accounts, the court said it take it up in mid-September.
A two-judge bench of Justices UU Lalit and Indu Malhotra heard the case.
In July last year the court – which set aside a Kerala High Court verdict and upheld the right of the royal family to manage the temple – said the state would initially pay all expenses related to the security and maintenance of the temple, and that this would later be reimbursed.
The court also left it to the former royal family to decide on the opening of a secret vault that has been shut for years. The family had argued that the opening of the vault – called “Kallara” in Malayalam – would bring misfortune because of a curse.
The sprawling temple, an architectural splendour in granite, was rebuilt in its present form in the 18th century by the Travancore Royal House which had ruled southern Kerala and some adjoining parts of Tamil Nadu before integration of the princely state with the Indian Union in 1947.
After remaining closed to the public since the Covid lockdown in March, the temple re-opened on August 26, albeit with certain restrictions. It was temporarily shut again in October after 12 staff members, including 10 priests, tested positive for coronavirus.
In addition to standard Covid protocols – wearing of face masks, use of hand sanitisers and maintaining social distance – the temple has also restricted devotees allowed per day. Devotees are also not allowed to touch the idol, walls or any other surfaces.
Kerala has the most number of active Covid cases in the country – over 64,000 – and has reported nearly 4,000 deaths related to the virus, so far.