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Nepal's Pashupatinath Temple Reopens After Probe: Did 11 Kg Gold Really Vanish?

A probe was launched after allegations that Rs 8.5 crore was embezzled at Kathmandu's Pashupatinath Temple.

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Nepal's Pashupatinath Temple Reopens After Probe: Did 11 Kg Gold Really Vanish?
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On Thursday, 29 June, the Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal's Kathmandu opened its doors to devotees after four days of closure, following a probe conducted by the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) – Nepal's anti-corruption agency – over allegations of embezzlement.

The probe was initiated after the CIAA received a complaint that during the installation of a golden jalari – the foundation upon which Shiva's idol stands – at the temple over two years ago, Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) officials allegedly embezzled 11 kg worth of gold, amounting to approximately Rs 8.5 crores (NPR) at the time.

Pashupatinath Temple is known to be the largest Hindu temple in the world.

So, how exactly did the allegations come about? What did the CIAA's investigation reveal? Is there any truth behind the allegations? The Quint explains.

Nepal's Pashupatinath Temple Reopens After Probe: Did 11 Kg Gold Really Vanish?

  1. 1. How & When Did the Accusations Begin?

    When the PADT proposed to install a golden jalari back in February 2021, the decision was met with a lot of opposition.

    Petitions were submitted to the Supreme Court of Nepal by advocate Nikita Dhungana as well as a former PADT treasurer Narrotam Baidya to protest the installation of the jalari, stating that replacing the previously silver foundation with a gold one was against the Ancient Monument Preservation Act of 1956.

    "One who destroys, demolishes, removes, alters, defaces or steals [any ancient monument or archaeological object] … is subject to punishment with a fine of [25,000 to 100,000 NPR] or with an imprisonment of five years to fifteen years or both."
    Section 12 of the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, 1956

    Both petitions listed one of the defendants as then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who had allocated Rs 30 crore towards the purchase of the gold.

    However, just before the Supreme Court imposed a stay on the installation, President Bidya Devi Bhandari presented the gold ornamentation already inaugurated at the temple.

    Soon, a controversy erupted as many believed that due process was not followed during the installation.

    But no action was taken until the embezzlement complaint was lodged at the CIAA earlier this year.

    Milan Kumar Thapa, the member secretary of the PADT, however, vehemently denied the claims made in the complaint.

    Speaking at the National Concerns and Coordination Committee of the National Assembly in June this year, he declared that he was "ready to face the death penalty" if any discrepancy was found in the weight of the gold.

    "It is shameful to make accusations without a proper investigation."
    Milan Kumar Thapa
    Expand
  2. 2. Did the Gold Really Go Missing?

    The probe concluded on the night of 25 June this year, and while the initial claim of '11 kg missing gold' was false, there were several other glaring discrepancies.

    According to a CIAA source, the weight of the jalari came out to be 107.46 kg – only 0.46 kg less than the initially stated weight.

    According to a former member secretary of the Trust, Govinda Tandan, in an interview with The Wire, gold can get worn out if it is mixed with other metals – which is the case of the jalari, as the Trust's documents report the gold was mixed with minute amounts of copper, silver, and zinc.

    The real problems, on the other hand, are the several holes in the PADT's reports and its failure to follow certain rules and regulations. Some of these issues were flagged in the 59th annual report made by Nepal's auditor general, where the installation process was described as "non-transparent."

    Here are some of the issues raised in the report:

    • 96.8 kg of material was used for the jalari, with 11 kg allocated for the golden band covering it. The PADT, however, did not disclose whether the remaining gold – after installing the jalari – was actually used for the band.

    • The PADT failed to submit the agreement signed with the rolling mill where the jalari was built and the payment details of the 13 craftsmen who created it.

    • It also failed to follow the Pashupati Area Development Trust (Second Amendment) Regulations while remunerating the craftsmen who made the jalari.

    • The board of the PADT provided wages to the craftsmen directly from donors. According to the auditor general, however, they should have been paid by the Trust after receiving donations in its own bank account.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Happens Next?

    On the 26 June, lawmakers from Nepal's ruling parties, including Maoist Centre lawmaker Devendra Paudel and Nepali Congress lawmaker Pradeep Paudel, called for a parliamentary investigation into the jalari dispute.

    "... The Office of Auditor General had also speculated about breach and suspicion of wrongdoings at the time of executing [the jalari's installation], why did the anti-graft agency start their investigation so late? I request with the honourable house speaker and request to form an investigation committee to dig out the truth."
    Pradeep Paudel

    The temple first closed on the morning of 25 June for the CIAA probe, which reportedly ended the same night. Over the next few days, the gold ornamentation was reinstalled at the temple before opening it to devotees on 29 June.

    All four gates of the temple, including the main gate, were closed for the reinstallation, with security personnel deployed on the temple premises.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

How & When Did the Accusations Begin?

When the PADT proposed to install a golden jalari back in February 2021, the decision was met with a lot of opposition.

Petitions were submitted to the Supreme Court of Nepal by advocate Nikita Dhungana as well as a former PADT treasurer Narrotam Baidya to protest the installation of the jalari, stating that replacing the previously silver foundation with a gold one was against the Ancient Monument Preservation Act of 1956.

"One who destroys, demolishes, removes, alters, defaces or steals [any ancient monument or archaeological object] … is subject to punishment with a fine of [25,000 to 100,000 NPR] or with an imprisonment of five years to fifteen years or both."
Section 12 of the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, 1956

Both petitions listed one of the defendants as then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who had allocated Rs 30 crore towards the purchase of the gold.

However, just before the Supreme Court imposed a stay on the installation, President Bidya Devi Bhandari presented the gold ornamentation already inaugurated at the temple.

Soon, a controversy erupted as many believed that due process was not followed during the installation.

But no action was taken until the embezzlement complaint was lodged at the CIAA earlier this year.

Milan Kumar Thapa, the member secretary of the PADT, however, vehemently denied the claims made in the complaint.

Speaking at the National Concerns and Coordination Committee of the National Assembly in June this year, he declared that he was "ready to face the death penalty" if any discrepancy was found in the weight of the gold.

"It is shameful to make accusations without a proper investigation."
Milan Kumar Thapa
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Did the Gold Really Go Missing?

The probe concluded on the night of 25 June this year, and while the initial claim of '11 kg missing gold' was false, there were several other glaring discrepancies.

According to a CIAA source, the weight of the jalari came out to be 107.46 kg – only 0.46 kg less than the initially stated weight.

According to a former member secretary of the Trust, Govinda Tandan, in an interview with The Wire, gold can get worn out if it is mixed with other metals – which is the case of the jalari, as the Trust's documents report the gold was mixed with minute amounts of copper, silver, and zinc.

The real problems, on the other hand, are the several holes in the PADT's reports and its failure to follow certain rules and regulations. Some of these issues were flagged in the 59th annual report made by Nepal's auditor general, where the installation process was described as "non-transparent."

Here are some of the issues raised in the report:

  • 96.8 kg of material was used for the jalari, with 11 kg allocated for the golden band covering it. The PADT, however, did not disclose whether the remaining gold – after installing the jalari – was actually used for the band.

  • The PADT failed to submit the agreement signed with the rolling mill where the jalari was built and the payment details of the 13 craftsmen who created it.

  • It also failed to follow the Pashupati Area Development Trust (Second Amendment) Regulations while remunerating the craftsmen who made the jalari.

  • The board of the PADT provided wages to the craftsmen directly from donors. According to the auditor general, however, they should have been paid by the Trust after receiving donations in its own bank account.

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What Happens Next?

On the 26 June, lawmakers from Nepal's ruling parties, including Maoist Centre lawmaker Devendra Paudel and Nepali Congress lawmaker Pradeep Paudel, called for a parliamentary investigation into the jalari dispute.

"... The Office of Auditor General had also speculated about breach and suspicion of wrongdoings at the time of executing [the jalari's installation], why did the anti-graft agency start their investigation so late? I request with the honourable house speaker and request to form an investigation committee to dig out the truth."
Pradeep Paudel

The temple first closed on the morning of 25 June for the CIAA probe, which reportedly ended the same night. Over the next few days, the gold ornamentation was reinstalled at the temple before opening it to devotees on 29 June.

All four gates of the temple, including the main gate, were closed for the reinstallation, with security personnel deployed on the temple premises.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Hindu Temple   Nepal   Temple 

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