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'Trust swindled Rs 83 lakh from Siddhivinayak'

'Trust swindled Rs 83 lakh from Siddhivinayak'

Author: Manoj Nair
Publication: Mid Day
Date: January 6, 2004
URL: http://web.mid-day.com/1news/city/2004/january/73058.htm

Devotees queuing up at the Siddhivinayak Temple, Prabhadevi, nowadays get a pamphlet before prasad. The pamphlet, distributed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), has raised an unholy row.

It says the temple's funds are being systematically diverted to private trusts run by ministers in the state government and state officials. It cites the case of Vilasrao Patil-Undalkar, a minister in the Democratic Front government, who got Rs 83 lakh transferred from the temple trust to Dada Undalkar Smarak Samiti, a trust run by him.

The state government controls the Siddhivinayak Temple trust, which is the state's second richest (after Shirdi) with a corpus of over Rs 42 crore.

The distribution of the pamphlets, written in Marathi, began last week. On December 26, state VHP president Ashok Chowgule and other VHP workers met Governor Mohammad Fazal to apprise him of the issue.

"We asked the governor to ask the state government what it had to say. The governor promised to look into the matter," said Chowgule.

It is not just the VHP that has raised the issue of corruption at the temple. A public interest litigation was filed in the Bombay High Court in November, alleging that temple funds worth Rs 86 lakh were diverted to the Dada Undalkar Smarak Samiti, a trust in Karad run by Vilasrao Patil-Undalkar, minister for welfare, rehabilitation, relief works and textiles.

The petition has alleged that in the absence of any guidelines for distribution of temple funds, the funds are being misused by those who control the temple. The plea has sought transparency in allocation of funds by the trustees to other trusts and NGOs. The petition is being heard by the court.

Patil-Undalkar said the money transferred was used for charity. "There is complete transparency in transfer of funds. The money has been used to build a ladies hostel for children of freedom fighters and ex-servicemen.

The money has not been used for any other purpose," the minister said from Karad.

Unlike other temple trusts that are governed by the charity commissioner, the Siddhivinayak and Shirdi Sai Baba temple trusts are governed under a special legislation enacted by the state government in 1980 and come under the direct jurisdiction of the state law and judiciary department.

In the year 2000, when the funds were transferred to his trust, Patil-Undalkar, as then minister of state for law and judiciary, was the sanctioning authority for distribution of funds by the temple trust.

The Siddhivinayak trust has eleven trustees, seven of whom are appointed directly by the government. The three-year term of seven trustees ended in October 2003, and they are yet to be replaced by the government. The other trustees still have two-and-a-half years to go.

Chowgule said the pamphlets have been distributed especially on Tuesdays. "The government takes over management of temples and appoints people who are not interested in the welfare of the temples.

These appointees use Hindu money for their own needs. Will the government ever think of taking over mosques and churches? We want to bring this to the notice of devotees," said Chowgule.

Around two lakh devotees visit Siddhivinayak temple every Tuesday, leaving the temple flush with money. In October 2003, the temple's corpus was estimated to be around Rs 42 crore, as against Rs 30 crore three years ago.

Its annual income is estimated to be Rs 12 crore, as against Rs 8 crore three years ago. According to temple deeds, the excess income is supposed to be used for charitable and medical purposes.

Former trustee Sharayu Thakur, who stepped down in October 2003, said Rs 86 lakh was transferred in 2000 before the last batch of trustees took over. "Previously there was little demand for donations from the trust.

So funds were distributed liberally. But when our group took over, there was such a tremendous demand for funds that any single disbursement has not crossed Rs 70 lakh.

Patil's was not the only trust to get such a large funding from the temple during the term of the earlier group. A larger fund of Rs three crore was given to a cancer hospital in Miraj," she said.

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