Edited excerpts from the interview
The Supreme Court had appointed you the head of the expert committee to evaluate the temple treasures. What was the major challenge while evaluating them?
It was an unusual task assigned by the Supreme Court. The five-member committee worked as per the court’s directions to oversee the process of making an inventory of the temple treasures in the most scientific manner. When I started my job, there was resistance from many quarters. There was little or no cooperation from the nodal officer of the Kerala government in charge of the temple affairs as well as the Additional DGP, who was in charge of temple security. The custodian of the temple treasures, the then head of the Pattom palace, Marthanda Varma, was evasive. Nobody wanted the documentation of the temple assets to be completed within the stipulated time. There were too many vested interests with hidden motives.
The Kerala government approached the SC to replace you after your retirement. Why did the government and Marthanda Varma want to exclude you from the expert panel?
I was trying to do my duty to safeguard the temple treasures. Marthanda Varma did not find my views in consonance with his own. He found me inconvenient and I found him uncomfortable to work with. So, he took the initiative to replace me. The nodal officer of the Kerala government also joined hands with him.
Did you receive any death threats?
I did not receive any threats. The biggest challenge was the attempted interference from certain quarters to put pressure on me to draft the report in a particular way. There were signals from various quarters to comply with their views while documenting the temple treasures. They wanted me to follow their report, authenticate it and submit it to the Supreme Court.
You said that the temple assets have been mismanaged. Could you elaborate?
It is a fact that temple treasures were mismanaged for a long time. I found evidence, but never had the time to conduct a detailed probe. The key management system was dysfunctional. One person had access to all the keys, which was in violation of the stipulation that different keys are to be in the custody of different persons. At the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, Marthanda Varma was the sole custodian of all the keys of the vaults where the treasures are kept. Many people have entered the vaults. Photographs of the artefacts were taken. There was no proper and scientifically-designed strong room. The existing vaults were inadequate for storage and retrieval of the treasures after documentation. The security arrangements were inadequate. The Additional DGP was indifferent and he avoided appearing before the committee.
Do you believe that criminals in league with the royal family smuggled temple assets to foreign countries?
There was no evidence of the royal family smuggling temple treasures to foreign countries.
Why have successive governments in Kerala been indifferent to the temple loot?
Presumably, it is because of vote-bank politics. Nobody sincerely wanted to safeguard the temple treasures, except for a few devotees of Sree Padmanabhaswamy.
Members of the royal family claim that they have not taken a single paisa from the temple. What is your view about the family?
Aswathy Thirunal and Pooyam Thirunal always appear to be upholding the truth. They wanted the right things to be done in the right manner.
There are reports that the late Marthanda Varma had photographed the temple valuables many times. The amicus curiae stated that he had seen a sophisticated gold-plating machinery inside the temple. Do you suspect that the royal family has duplicated temple assets to hide the loot?
It is true that Marthanda Varma had photographed the artefacts. But I did not come across any gold-plating machine inside the temple. It is a revelation for me.
What prompted you to scrutinise the royal family and their involvement in the administration of temple assets?
The treasure management system of the temple was honoured more in the breach than in observance. This obviously would lead to malpractices. Since the head of the royal family was the custodian of the temple treasures, he had a vicarious responsibility for the lapses. Beyond this, a scrutiny of the royal family’s involvement, if any, was not within the mandate of the committee.
Did you inform Marthanda Varma about the mismanagement of the temple wealth and request him to take appropriate action? What was his response?
I brought to the notice of Marthanda Varma the lapses in the management of the treasures and suggested appropriate inquiries to clear the misgivings about possible pilferage and theft. He heard me, agreed with me, blessed me and took steps to remove me from the expert committee. That was the end of my job there.
Why is there no transparency in the temple administration?
There is no transparency because there is a systemic failure and scant regard for checks and balances.
The royal family has filed an affidavit saying that vault B was last opened in 1936. Do you believe them?
Do you suspect that many of the valuables hidden in vault B have been smuggled out?
It is just speculation; there is no evidence.
Malayalis are literate and politically active. Why did they never question the royals about the temple assets?
A majority of the people were not aware about the temple treasures. I hope that people of Kerala will rise to the occasion and ensure that truth prevails.