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New Delhi, February 7, 2020
The Supreme Court on Friday appointed retired Kerala High Court judge C. N. Ramachandaran Nair to supervise preparation of inventory and valuation report of the ornaments which adorn Lord Ayyappa at Kerala's Sabarimala temple.
A bench of Justices N. V. Ramana, Ajay Rastogi and V. Ramasubramanian said: "We are worried about the security of the sacred ornaments."
These ornaments are claimed by different factions in the erstwhile Pandalam royal family.
The apex court asked Attorney General K. K. Venugopal, representing the Kerala government, to find an amicable solution to the dispute between the factions and he cited that a similar issue had come up in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, where a committee was formed by the top court to prepare an inventory on the jewellery.
"In the beginning, the government needs the list of the ornaments, which are in the custody of the Pandalam Raja," Venugopal said.
He added that the existing list is very basic, as it does not draw a distinction on the quantity of carat gold or what is the carat of a diamond, and suggested a jeweller to prepare a detailed inventory with exact specifications.
The top court observed the services of a jeweller should be availed of and the report should be filed in sealed cover.
The court observed the bone of contention is the parties do not agree the ornaments belong to the Lord Ayyappa, and instead the royal family has the rightful ownership.
To this, the AG reiterated that similar issue had come up Padmanabhaswamy Temple case, and in the dispute over the ownership of jewellery, an individual cannot claim it does not belong to the deity.
The state government has a list of the ornaments, he said, submitting before the court that a trust can be made responsible for custody of the ornaments, and also it is difficult to fathom why the royal family resists the preparation of an inventory.
The court then went through the list of the ornaments. "It says only 16 ornaments with the Lord Ayyappa, is it all? Several donations are made at Sabarimala temple?"
The AG asked the court to direct the royal family to disclose the entire inventory and also allow a jeweller to evaluate them.
Senior advocate K. Radhakrishnan, representing the royal family, opposed this, arguing that the state government is trying to gain indirect control of the jewelry.
The court replied the discontent between the factions of the royal family is responsible for this situation.
But Radhakrishnan did not budge, and contended the dispute can be resolved and there is no need for the government to gain control over the ornaments. The bench queried why there is resistance on the preparation of the inventory? "The jewellery is only meant for Lord Ayyappa, and a valuer, without taking out the jewellery from the palace, can prepare the inventory," it observed.
Advocate Sai Deepak, representing senior most member of the royal family, argued the jewellery belongs to the royal family and it does not belong to any trust or board.
The bench then appointed the retired High Court judge of the Kerala High Court, who will further appoint a person to prepare an inventory and valuation and submit this report in a sealed cover.
The court asked Venugopal to examine the security aspect of the ornaments and then inform the court. It also gave four more weeks to the state government to draw a framework regarding the administration of the Sabarimala temple.