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India's rich temples may open gold vaults for Prime Minister Modi
By Meenakshi Sharma and Krishna N. Das
Thursday, April 9, 2015
The two-century-old Shree Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai devoted to the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha bristles with closed-circuit cameras and is guarded by 65 security officers.
It is one of India's richest temples, having amassed 158 kilograms of gold offerings, worth some $67 million, and its heavily guarded vaults are strictly off limits.
India is the world's biggest consumer of gold and its ancient temples have collected billions of dollars in jewelry, bars and coins over the centuries -- all hidden securely in vaults, some ancient and some modern.
A few years ago a treasure of gold worth an estimated $20 billion was discovered in secret subterranean vaults in the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Kerala state.
Now Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to get his hands on this temple gold, estimated at about 3,000 tonnes, more than two thirds of the gold held in the U.S bullion depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to help tackle India's chronic trade imbalance. Modi's government is planning to launch a scheme in May that would encourage temples to deposit their gold with banks in return for interest payments.
The government would melt the gold and loan it to jewelers to meet an insatiable appetite for gold and reduce economically-crippling gold imports, which accounted for 28 percent of India's trade deficit in the year ending March 2013.
India's annual gold imports of 800 to 1,000 tonnes could be cut by a quarter if temples decided to participate in the scheme, say government and industry sources.
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