Tirupati/Chennai: The negligent stance of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) authorities who earlier refuted to acknowledge the 1381 kgs of gold worth Rs.400 crores seized in Tamil Nadu on April 17 night at Pundamalli limits of Tiruvalluru district, has come to the fore once again.
When the gold was seized the TTD officials first refused to acknowledge it, but within a day the Executive Officer(EO) Anil Kumar Singhal came out and released a statement that the 1381 kg of Gold including interest, which was deposited in Punjab National Bank (PNB) in 2016, had reached TTD treasury safely on April 20.
The EO said the government of Andhra Pradesh had issued a government order on 1 April in the year 2000, to deposit surplus gold in nationalized banks under Gold Deposit Scheme. Later in 2015, the RBI had brought in Gold Monetisation Scheme in the place of Gold Deposit Scheme. The total deposits of TTD Gold included 5387 kilos in State Bank of India (SBI), 1938 kg in Indian Overseas Bank(IOB), 1381 kg in Punjab National Bank (PNB) and 553 kg of mixed gold in TTD treasury.
Following the guidelines of term deposits given by Government of India, the TTD deposited gold in the respective banks. The government gives 1.5% on handling charges and 1% commission to banks. The handling charges are towards the gold purity testing, refining, transportation, storage, and other costs being incurred by banks. Hence, it is clear that the total responsibility of handing over of the gold to TTD lies purely on PNB as per guidelines, Anil Kumar said.
In this case, gold while being transported, was seized by the election authorities and the TTD claimed that it had no responsibility with regard to the gold seized by election authorities.
Flouting security norms
However flouting regulations, which specifically say that anything over Rs.50 lakhs should be transported with police security, has brought the entire matter under the cloud.
What was surprising is that such a large quantity of gold was being transported without proper security. The TTD EO reportedly denied any knowledge of such gold being seized, but this only heightened the doubts of IT and Revenue officials.
According to witnesses, there were supposed to be three vehicles as part of the convoy, but only two vehicles were registered in the Revenue records. So where was the third vehicle? And only one vehicle had private armed security guarding it. After the gold was seized, the Revenue department deposited the gold in the treasury and informed the Income Tax (IT) department.
The IT department has expressed its doubts in the way the gold was transported and the neglect by the TTD officials about the seizure. The officials who were in the vehicles claimed that the gold belonged to the TTD. When the TTD officials were asked about it, they replied that it was not their gold. But by the end of the day the TTD EO released a statement to the media about the Gold and other details.
No clear documentation
There was no proper documentation furnishing details about the gold with the personnel who were transporting it. The IT department officials were unable to understand that if the gold was being transported to Tirupati, should not the TTD EO be prepared with the required documentation and a special team to receive the gold. Secondly wasn't the TTD supposed to be informed in prior about the arrival of the gold and keep a team ready. Thirdly, additional security should have been deployed by the TTD when the gold was being transported to Tirupati. The IT department has failed to understand as to why the TTD EO Anil Kumar Singhal reiterated that the responsibility of the gold security lay with the Punjab National Bank only.
The IT officials also raised concerns that there was documentation about the gold being transported by the bank, but there was no clear documentation that Gold belonged to the TTD. Since the gold seized was of such huge quantity, the case jurisdiction was shifted from the IT department to the Director of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).
TTD EO pressure tactics to retrieve gold
The DRI officials verified the PNB Bank and the Custom Clearance documentation and left the matter to the Tamil Nadu Chief Election Officer's discretion. It is said that the TTD EO had started pressurising the Election Officer over the phone, stating that the Gold belonged to God... and that they could not verify ''God's Gold''... and that he was also an IAS officer and that officer should listen to him and hand over the gold at the earliest... in very harsh terms. With this pressure, the EC had directed the Tiruvalluru District Collector to hand over the gold to the TTD EO on April 20 in Tirupati.