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Monday, July 25, 2011

Raja names P M and Chidambaram in 2G

New Delhi: In the Supreme Court today, A Raja presented a spirited defence of the decisions that have landed him in Tihar Jail. One of the more controversial consequences of his decisions was that two Indian companies were able to sell the licences Mr Raja granted very cheaply to them at a massive profit to foreign investors. Mr Raja said in court that the Prime Minister and then Finance Minister P Chidambaram were aware of this. "The Finance Minister approved the sale in the presence of the PM. Let the Prime Minister deny it," said Mr Raja in court today.

Mr Raja was arrested in November for selling mobile network licences and 2G spectrum while he was Telecom Minister in 2008 to companies that were ineligible. A spin-off from the alleged scam is that two of those companies - Unitech Wireless and DB Realty - then sold equity to foreign companies - Telenor in the case of Unitech and Etisalat in the case of DB Realty. The Indian companies made huge profits - they had been sold the licences at throwaway rates, but were able to sell them at huge mark-ups, leading to the conclusion that they had profited at the cost of the government.

In court today, he said, "Where is the crime? Where is the conspiracy? Telenor buying a stake in Unitech Wireless and Etisalat buying a stake in DB Realty was totally legal as per the corporate law. The Finance Minister approved the sale in the presence of the PM. Let the Prime Minister deny it." And added, "What the telecom companies do after I give them spectrum is not my domain."

Mr Raja has been questioned about why he decided against auctioning spectrum instead of awarding licences on a first-come-first-serve basis. "If the policy pursued by me was wrong, then all former Telecom Ministers since 1993 should also be jail with me," said Mr Raja in a Delhi court this morning. "If I had auctioned spectrum, that would have been a crime, as it was a Union Cabinet decision," he said. The government and the PM have said that it's not the policy but Mr Raja's twisted implementation that saw companies like Unitech and DB Realty allegedly jumping to the head of the queue to get licences out of turn.

Like his party, the DMK, Mr Raja has stressed that he followed the policies introduced by his predecessors in the NDA government that was in power till 2004, when the UPA coalition was elected.

Mr Raja said, "As Telecom Minster Arun Shourie distributed 26 licences while Dayanidhi Maran distributed 25 and I (Raja) distributed 122 licences. Numbers make no difference, however, it is to be noted that none of them auctioned the spectrum. If they had done no wrong, why am I being questioned? Let them deny that they have not done what I did. I was just following the 2003 Cabinet decision that is not to auction 2G spectrum. If I am following the law, I am not liable to be prosecuted. In fact, I should be rewarded."


P Chidambaram, who was Finance Minister when India's telecom scam played out in 2008, refused to comment on Mr Raja saying that he (Mr Raja) could not be held responsible for the foreign partners who were roped in by two Indian companies after he awarded them mobile network licenses while he was Telecom Minister. And that the Prime Minister and Mr Chidambaram were aware that Unitech Wireless and Swan Telecom tied up with foreign firms Telenor and Etisalat respectively after they received 2G licences.

But, answering questions, Mr Chidambaram told PTI that there was no sale of spectrum by Unitech and Swan Telecom to foreign partners; instead, they were issued fresh shares by promoters. And that this was discussed in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (Read: Shares divested or diluted was the only issue discussed, says Chidambaram)

Mr Chidambaram also said that his ministry's examination of the matter was limited to whether Swan Telecom and Unitech were divesting stake or diluting shares through fresh equity.

If an investor buys existing shares off the owner of a company, the money goes directly to the owner. If fresh shares are issued for the investor, the money is pumped into the company. But in this case too, the owner of the company benefits because the value of the company shoots up, in turn increasing the value of the shares held by the owner.

The legality of the deals with Telenor and Etisalat has not been challenged by the CBI, which is investigating the scam. Experts have referred to the transactions involving them to point out the extent of the telecom scam allegedly conducted by Mr Raja. While he gave licenses to companies like Unitech Wireless and Swan at hefty bargains, they were able to attract enormous investments from foreign companies for the same licenses. This is seen as an indication of how Mr Raja cost the government thousands of crores by under-valuing the licenses he awarded as Telecom Minister.

PM, Chidambaram knew about 2G deals: Raja

The 47-year-old DMK MP pleaded before Special CBI judge O P Saini that there was nothing wrong in his decision of not auctioning 2G spectrum as he had "implemented only what I have inherited."

Senior advocate Sushil Kumar, appearing for Raja, said if Raja is being prosecuted for following a certain policy then all Telecom ministers since 1993 are liable to be prosecuted as they too followed the same policy.

"If policy pursued by me was wrong, then all former telecom ministers since 1993 should also be in jail with me (Raja)," the counsel said while opposing framing of charges against Raja.

He said, "As telecom minster Arun Shourie distributed 26 licences while Dayanidhi Maran distributed 25 and I (Raja) distributed 122 licences. Numbers make no difference, however, it is to be noted that none of them auctioned the spectrum.

"If they had done no wrong, why am I being questioned? Let them deny that they have not done what I did. I was just following the 2003 Cabinet decision that is not to auction 2G spectrum. If I am following the law, I am not liable to be prosecuted. Infact, I should be rewarded," Raja said.

While defending his policy as telecom minister, Raja submitted that it is because of his policy that mobile phone call rates came down and they became affordable to even a 'rickshaw wala'.

"It was my obligation to social justice that every man on the street should have a mobile phone. I am a servant of my people and I made the call rates of mobile phone so cheap that even a 'rickshaw wala' or a maid servant can be seen using it," Raja said.

Raja, who was arrested on February 2 for his alleged role in the 2G scam, today began his arguments opposing charges of cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy against him.

The arguments are still continuing.

CBI had begun its arguments on framing of charges against Raja and 16 others, including three telecom firms, from July 21 and had completed its arguments on July 23.

All the 14 accused including DMK MP Kanimozhi are presently lodged in Tihar Jail.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fresh Lokpal Bill, excludes PM and CJI from its ambit

NEW DELHI: The government on Friday completed drafting the new Lokpal Bill, ignoring the Anna Hazare group`s demand for inclusion of the prime minister, chief justice of India and judges of the higher judiciary as well as conduct of MPs in Parliament in the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog.

"Drafting of the Lokpal Bill has been completed. The department of personnel and training and legislative department have been instructed to draft a note for placing the draft before the Cabinet," said a source involved in the drafting process. This may happen next week.

While the five ministers on the joint drafting committee have ruled out inclusion of the PM — one of the key issues on which the dialogue with Hazare broke down — the matter may be finally settled after the bill is discussed by a standing committee of Parliament. The drafting panel had included Hazare representatives.

The Cabinet is unlikely to reconsider the decision not to include the prime minister in the Lokpal`s ambit. But with the bill expected to be referred to a standing committee, and both BJP and Left strongly backing the PM`s inclusion with safeguards, the issue is yet to be sealed.

Having tried to outflank Congress on corruption, both BJP and Left will find it difficult to retract their positions.

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal made it clear that the political process would determine the bill`s content, saying, "There is no provision for an individual to bring a bill in Parliament." He added that Hazare could approach the standing committee.

PM Manmohan Singh has been in favour of bringing his office within the Lokpal`s jurisidiction, but senior ministers are overwhelmingly against it, apprehending that the PMO might become a target of frivolous and motivated complaints, making the government vulnerable to political instability.

Anna Hazare has threatened to sit on fast from August 16 if an omnibus anti-corruption watchdog in accordance to his prescription is not created.

The draft Bill also does not bring MPs within the ambit of the Lokpal for their conduct in Parliament that might be influenced by graft. The Hazare group had demanded their inclusion, citing the JMM MPs` bribery case and the recent cash-for-vote scam.

The main reason for exclusion of the CJI and judges of the higher judiciary from the draft Lokpal Bill was that the field was already covered by Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, which is pending consideration of Parliament.

The MPs` conduct on the floor of Parliament was kept out of the Lokpal Bill because Article 105(2) of the Constitution provided that "no MP shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof...", the sources said.

Though the draft incorporates the agreed points between the government's ministerial nominees and members of the Hazare group, it reflects the UPA government`s insistence that the "civil society" representatives could not hijack the legislation drafting process as they did not have the people's mandate.

Cash-for-votes: Amar denies direct contact with Hindustani, Saxena

Delhi cops drag feet on grilling Amar Singh•Cash-for-votes scam: Ex-BJP worker blames Amar, Ahmed PatelFor the first time on Friday, Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh was interrogated by crime branch officials in connection with the 2008 cash-for-votes scandal. He was grilled for almost three hours after he arrived at the crime branch's cell in his Volkswagen car at 10.45 am.

Also present were Sanjeev Saxena and Suhail Hindustani, who have already been arrested in the case.

Hindustani - believed to be the chief conspirator in the case - had claimed he offered the bribe to BJP MPs on Singh's behest. On his way to court escorted by the police on Friday, Hindustani shouted: "Satyameva Jayate. Yeh sarkar hame fasa rahi hai (Truth will prevail. This government is falsely trapping us in the case)." A police source said: "Singh claimed his mobile phone was usually answered by his staff. He vehemently denied ever having spoken to Hindustani." Sources said Singh also denied being on close terms with Saxena, who has claimed to have known the former Samajwadi Party leader.

Singh allegedly told the investigating officials that Saxena may have worked in one of his companies some time, but he had no direct contact with him anytime, especially in 2008.

Another source said questions were asked about the sequence of events and Singh's role in them, but he claimed to be ignorant about the allegations that he funded the bribe money.

While leaving the office, Singh refused to answer questions from the media. Police sources said he was likely to be interrogated again before the police finally submitted their status report to the Supreme Court.

The BJP on Friday termed the police probe as an effort to suppress the truth rather than unravel the conspiracy.

Singh is the first politician to be questioned in the case three years after the shameful incident in Parliament. During that time, both the BJP and Congress have questioned each other's role in the bribery during the trust vote.

"The BJP wants to know who the beneficiary was of the entire exercise of giving money to MPs in 2008. Was it the UPA government or the PM?" party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy asked.

Actually, the probe in the case can scald both parties as a host of politicians are set to be interrogated in the coming days.

The BJP already expressed its reservations on the probe. "The Delhi Police report directly to the home affairs ministry and the government. This is ample evidence why they have remained silent on the probe for (so long)," Rudy said.

Hours later, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi reacted angrily to the insinuations.

He said: "I can say many things that I am not saying. I can say Sudheendra Kulkarni (former BJP leader) once admitted it (sting operation to expose the buying of MPs) was organised by the BJP. But I am not saying it." He added: "I can say it was a case of MPs desperate to sell themselves so they could tell the public that the government survived through other means. But why should I say all this." Singhvi said the Congress was of the view that all aspects of the case should be examined and investigations completed as soon as possible.

Despite the BJP and Congress's barbs at each other, the parties shied away from naming Singh. The police have now sent notice to Samajwadi Party MP Rewati Raman Singh asking him to be present for questioning on Monday. BJP MP from Bhind, Ashok Argal, is next in line to be grilled.

Kerala Temple Treasure: SC Sets up Panel to Decide on Final Vault

Thiruvananthapuram, The Sri Ananathapadmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, which came into limelight after tons of gold, diamonds and precious idols were found in its secret vaults, is still home to more treasure in its sixth vault which remains unopened.

The issue of opening the last and final vault has been under much debate, with all kinds of stories making the rounds, including one that it portends bad omen and must therefore remain closed.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that until an inventory is prepared of the Rs one lac crore-plus treasure already found at the temple and adequate security measures are taken, the vault shall not be opened.

Now, the Apex Court has formed a committee to decide whether the sixth vault should be opened or not.

The five-member panel will discuss issues like how to go about the inventory, and how to document the treasure, besides taking into consideration the sentiments of the devotees regarding the opening of the last vault. It will also decide on what items could be put on public display.

The panel, headed by Dr CV Ananda Bose from the National Museum, includes representatives of the Reserve Bank of India and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The five vaults opened so far have brought world-wide attention to the temple. Treasure worth over Rs one lac crore was found in the vaults, most of it believed to be belonging to the erstwhile royal family of Travancore. The issue of who the treasure belongs to is still under debate, and so also the problem of providing adequate security.

The vaults were opened after T P Sunderarajan, a former IPS officer, petitioned in the Supreme Court to make an evaluation of the treasure stored in the Temple's underground. Sunderarajan died on July 17, adding more fuel to the local superstition surrounding the Temple's treasure.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is there a the Center -Asks L.K.Advani

Kolkata, July 10 (IANS) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani Sunday said he wondered whether anyone was in charge of the country at all.

"Is there any government running? This morning, I saw a headline in a paper that is there any government in the country. The way the government is running, the common people are asking whether it will continue like this till 2014. Will this continue to drag along in this manner," Advani asked while speaking to reporters here.

"I have seen all the central governments from Pandit Nehru to the current time, but this type of government I have never seen," he said.

Welcoming the change in the regime in West Bengal, Advani said: "I am supporting this. When I came here during election campaign, I said everywhere that I am foreseeing it clearly that by this election, politics of West Bengal will enter a new era."

"And a new era has started. Thirty-four years of Marxist misrule has ended. I welcome this," he added.

Sibal defends lowering of penalty for RCom

A day after a public interest litigation (PIL) petition was filed in the Supreme Court against Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal accusing him of monetarily favouring the Anil Ambani-headed Reliance Communications Ltd. (RCom), the Minister denied the charges and asserted that the Rs. 5-crore fine imposed on the firm was as per the terms and conditions of the agreement signed between the government and the private operator.

“In November 2010, the Department of Telecommunications [DoT] served a show-cause notice to RCom for shutting down telephone towers in 13 telecom circles that it had put up with money allocated from the Universal Service Obligation Fund [USOF] and imposed a fine of Rs. 50 crore. But by the time the file reached me in February 2011, RCom had restored the services. Hence, action could not be initiated for termination of services [as intended originally] as per the licence agreement signed [only] between DoT and RCom, but for disruption of services as per the agreement signed between USOF and RCom and the penalty was recalculated from Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 5 crore,” Mr. Sibal told journalists here on Friday.

The DoT never sought Rs. 650-crore penalty as mentioned in the PIL. “I am deeply grieved by what is happening by the PIL filed by the NGO alleging that the Telecom Minister has abused his power to benefit RCom by reducing penalty to Rs. 5 crore. The proceedings initiated by way of an affidavit in the Supreme Court in the 2G case are malicious, motivated and defamatory. PILs are being misused to tarnish the image of Ministers … PILs should not be used to settle personal scores. It is a dishonest PIL…governments cannot function in this manner,” Mr. Sibal said.

The Minister, however, did not give reasons for RCom switching off the telecom towers in rural areas and why the DoT took over four months to take action against it. “The notice for Rs. 50 crore was to pressure RCom...they got worried and finally restored the services. They paid a penalty of Rs. 5.5 crore,” he added. Mr. Sibal also rejected the charge that he had favoured RCom because it had been his client earlier. However, defending the PIL plea filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the action against RCom should have been initiated for violation of licence conditions that called for a penalty up to Rs. 50 crore per telecom circle.

“As separate licences are issued for each circle, penalty for violation of licence agreements in 13 circles will be to the tune of Rs. 650 crore and not Rs. 50 crore or Rs. 5 crore what the DoT later charged,” he pointed out.

On Mr. Sibal's objection linking the PIL plea to the 2G scam, Mr. Bhushan said the violations by RCom were linked to 2G licence conditions. “As per the Supreme Court's directions, the CBI is probing the entire gamut of 2G licences — irregularities in its allocation and non-fulfilment of licence conditions, therefore this should also be a part of the 2G scam case,” Mr. Bhushan said.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Treat all 2G allocations made in the past as a closed chapter,"Chidambaram to P.M in 2008

Remove Home Minister 'forthwith': BJP asks PM

Not satisfied with Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran's resignation, BJP today (July 8) demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sack then Finance Minister P Chidambaram "forthwith" for his alleged complicity in the case. "The 2-G spectrum scandal is no longer only an 'ally affair'. The revelations in the JPC, which is looking into the scandal, and those coming out in the media show that there is a Congress overtone to this," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.

Referring to the events around January 10, 2008 when the 2G spectrum licences were issued, she said Home Minister P Chidambaram, who was then Finance Minister, is also responsible for the government not taking the auction route and claimed this led to a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore.

"On January 9, 2008, an additional secretary in the Finance Ministry had clearly suggested adoption of the auction route for spectrum usage charges. On January 15, the Finance Minister sent a note to the PM that the government adopt the auction route for future spectrum allocations and treat all allocations made in the past as a closed chapter," she said.

BJP also wondered if not keeping minutes of a May 29, 2008 meeting on the 2G issue by the government was a "deliberate procedural lapse".

"An attempt was made in that meeting by then Finance Minister to gloss over the divergent opinions, cover up the disregard to rules, regulations and procedures in the issue of licences by holding a meeting with the then Telecom Minister A Raja. "It is reported that the Prime Minister was informed of an 'agreed position' thereafter. A clear four months after the scandalous allocation of the 2G licences," Sitharaman said.

BJP demanded that the Prime Minister break his silence on this matter and issue an explanation. It further said Chidambaram's position in the Cabinet has become untenable now and he should be "removed forthwith". "The scandalous cover-up of the 2G spectrum scam started with the Finance Minister's letter of January 15, 2008," Sitharaman said.

The BJP sought to know if ignoring the advise of the additional secretary that auction route should be taken was a "deliberate omission". The Opposition maintained that in 2003, the NDA Cabinet had specified that fixing of price for the allocation of spectrum will be done in consultation with the Department of Telecommunication (DOT) and with the approval of Ministry of Finance.

"In this case, in 2008, the Ministry of Finance in a make believe fait accompli situation provided a cover up for the decision to issue licences on January 10 2008... In the 'treat as closed chapter' advice to the PM on a contentious decision which was taken just a few days before, the then Minister of Finance's connivance is palpable," Sitharaman said. She demanded a 'focused inquiry' into how there are no formal minutes or record of the May 29, 2008 meeting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

CBI case may seal Dayanidhi Maran’s fate ?

Dayanidhi Maran’s troubles are far from over. The CBI will soon register a case against the former cabinet minister for his alleged involvement in the 2G spectrum allotment scandal. In its report on the 2G scam, the CBI has said Maran, the telecom minister in 2006, forced industrialist C Sivasankaran to sell his share in Aircel to the Maxis Group of Malaysia by stonewalling a request to grant the company UAS licences.

Three officials of the department of telecommunications, one retired and two serving, have corroborated Sivasankaran’s allegations against Maran during 2004-2006. Maran’s secretary, Nripender Mishra, and officials PK Mittal and RJS Kushwaha are believed to have provided substantial evidence against the former minister to the investigating agency.

“Their testimony has given us substantial leads to register a case against Maran,” a CBI officer told . “It will be registered as soon as we complete recording the statements of all key witnesses. We do not need the PMO’s nod to conduct a probe against him for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.”

The officer, however, said the CBI would have to inform the speaker of the Lok Sabha before making any arrest. “Maran will be summoned for questioning once we register a case,” he said. A CBI source said the three officials said Maran had stalled the granting of licences to Sivasankaran for more than two years.

The Story

NEW DELHI: With Dayanidhi Maran's exit from the Union Council of Ministers, reclusive globetrotting Chennai-born billionaire Chinnakannan Sivasankaran has, yet again, drawn blood in a battle on his home ground. It was Sivasankaran's charge that Maran manipulated him into selling his telco Aircel by inordinately denying it licences that cost the minister his job.

Malaysian billionaire T Ananda Krishnan of Maxis (along with Apollo Hospital's Reddy family) bought Aircel for $800 million in 2005. The company troubles disappeared and it received telecom licences within four months. Two years later, Ananda Krishnan invested $166 million for a 20% stake in Sun Direct , run by Maran's brother Kalanithi Maran . While Sivasankaran has been crying foul for a while, the game changer was his hiring of former Federal Bureau of Investigations chief Louis Freeh.

When Sivasankaran appeared at the Central Bureau of Investigations office in New Delhi, Freeh appeared with him, and presented his case, backed by an exhaustive trail of documents. Freeh's pitch seems to have persuaded the investigative agency. On Wednesday, CBI told the Supreme Court that Maran had forced Sivasankaran to sell his telco.

In a scandal-battered government, that submission set off the countdown to Maran's ignominious exit from the Textiles Ministry. Fifty five-year-old Sivasankaran, who forced the latest in UPA government's litany of embarrassments through Dayanidhi Maran's exit, is known for very different kind of exits - the profitable kind. The serial entrepreneur has grown from being a fabrication contractor for Chennai Petroleum Corporation to heading a sprawling global business empire worth $4 billion.

Along the way, he has done business in personal computers, telecom and internet service, shipping, real estate, minerals, agro products and financial investments. His investment holdings range from a Norwegian mineral water company to palm oil companies in Africa to real estate and oil companies in India. While little is common to his business interests, his exits are always profitable.

He sold Aircel to Maxis for Rs 4,700 crore. He sold the Barista coffee chain to Italy's Lavazza group for Rs 500 crore in 2007. Three years earlier, he had bought it for Rs 65 crore. He sold Dishnet DSL to VSNL forRs 270 crore in 2004. Siva has exhibited a knack for spotting opportunities and a supreme sense of timing for his exits. Siva, the clash with whom proved too costly for Maran, owns three private jets (a Boeing Business Jet and two Embraer Legacy 600s) and residences around the world.

He serves as the ambassador-at-large for the island republic of Seychelles, where he maintains a seafront residence. While Maran will cool his heels with his colleagues from the embattled Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Siva will be on the prowl for his next acquisition, having profitably settled a niggling insult dating back six years.

Monday, July 4, 2011

With treasure worth over 1 lakh crore, is Kerala temple India's richest shrine?

Thiruvananthapuram: Is the 16th century Sree Pasmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala on its way to become the richest shrine in India?

Ornaments and valuables reportedly worth a whopping one lakh crore rupees were found in the secret cellars of the temple.

The temple is being run by a trust constituted by the Travancore Royal Family.

The Supreme Court had ordered the opening of the cellars, while hearing a petition filed by TP Sundararajan, who sought details of assets owned by the temple.

According to temple sources, the major findings include:

Gold coins weighing 1,000 kg, some dating back to French ruler Napoleon's time
Over a ton of gold in the form of rice trinkets and a sack full of diamonds
A rare statue of Lord Vishnu studded with diamonds, emeralds and rubies
An 18 feet gold ornament weighing 35 kilograms.
However, the expert panel preparing the inventory chose not to comment on its value.

"I have not said about any crore or any one rupee. These are all your versions which I don't want to comment upon as I'm not competent to do so," said M N Krishnan, Retired Judge & Chairman of Supreme-Court appointed Committee.

The Kerala government has heightened security for the temple and has clarified that it has no plans to interfere in the temple's assets.

"The government's stand is that the valuables found in the temple belong to the temple," said V Sivakumar, Minister for Temple Affairs, Kerala.

However, the views of other party leaders differ.

There were mixed reactions from devotees.

"A temple does not need coins from the Napolean period. All these things can be accommodated in a museum and the museum should be named after the royal family," said Rahul Easwar, Devotee and Spokesperson of Head Priest of Sabarimala Shrine.

Another devotee says, "The assets of the temple belong to the temple and its should be preserved in the temple itself."

As the debate continues over the managing temple's assets, its actual value will be known only after the expert committee submits its report to the Supreme Court.

Seized Satya Sai cash not trustworthy: Police

July 4, 2011 Deccan Chronicle Anantapur

July 3: The police is apparently certain that the Rs 35 lakh that was seized was not donated by 12 devotees for Satya Sai Baba’s Mahasamadhi construction works as had been claimed by the Satya Sai Central Trust members.

After enquiring with devotees who had supposedly donated the cash, which had been seized from engineer Harish Ananda Shetty while being taken to Bengaluru from Baba’s personal chamber Yajur Mandir, the police concluded that their claims were false. The bank transaction details furnished by the devotees were found irrelevant as the police realised that most of the transactions had been done six months back. The receipts on the bundles of the seized cash, however, showed that they had been withdrawn from various banks between 2007 and 2009. The police have thus intensified their probe and special teams have spoken to donors in Bengaluru and Chennai.

A police officer said that the Trust had been accepting donations in cash and gold from devotees and this became clear when Harish Ananda Shetty was arrested on June 18 adding that the bank statements produced by the donors were not connected with the cash seized. A police official said that cases might be registered against trustees Mr V. Srinivasan and Mr R.J. Ratnakar as they had found prima facie evidence after two of the three accused in connection with the case had confessed that the two trustees had handed over the cash to them in Yajur Mandir. It is being presumed that there is more treasure and the police think that the trustees have deliberately ignored to take inventories of all valuables.

It is also being wondered why the trust sought the government’s assistance on Saturday to appraise gold and silver as they had not done so when they had opened Baba’s bedroom and other private quarters a fortnight ago.

Kerala Temple Treasure worth $20 bn found, temple still counting

Investigators plan to pry open the final vault hidden deep under a centuries-old Hindu temple as police guarded round the clock the shrine where billions of dollars worth of treasure has been discovered.

Over the last week a seven-member team of investigators has broken into five of the related stories

six secret subterranean vaults piled high with jewels that have lain untouched for hundreds of years.

Onlookers and devotees thronged the shrine in the bustling centre of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala's capital, as officials said treasure worth more than $20 billion had been found -- more than India's education budget.

Sacks filled with diamonds were piled next to tonnes of gold coins and jewellery, media reported, in the vaults of the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, the royal chapel of the former rulers of Travancore, now part of Kerala state.

"The current market value of the articles found so far by the committee members would be roughly 900 billion rupees ($20.2 billion)," one temple official who was not authorised to speak to the media said.

Investigators searched the vaults to draw up an inventory of the riches because of worry about security but they had no idea of the amount of treasure they would find.

Estimates of the haul's worth range across billions of dollars, with investigators unwilling to disclose the official amount and the ambiguity involved in valuing the priceless jewels and gold coins by weight.

Police set up a dedicated control room close to the temple on Monday, as state chief minister Oommen Chandy pledged full state security for the hoard and promised it would remain the property of the temple after an inventory was made.

"We are ready to protect the temple wealth. We will chart out measures for the permanent security in consultation with the Travancore Royal family, which administers the temple now, and the chief priest of the temple", Chandy told reporters.

Historians supported the estimates of the treasure's value, noting the lucrative trade routes that passed through the region for many centuries.

"Traders, who used to come from other parts of the country and abroad for buying spices and other commodities, used to make handsome offerings to the deity for not only his blessings but also to please the then rulers", said PJ Cherian, director of Kerala Council for Historic Research.

As estimates of the treasure's worth rise, a fierce debate is growing regarding what to do with the discovery, in a country where 450 million people live in poverty.

Leaders of the Hindu community want the wealth to be invested in the temple, while many intellectuals, including former Supreme Court judge Justice VR Krishna Iyer have suggested it should be used for the public good.

The government has said it would adhere to the Supreme Court's ruling on ownership of the treasure found in the temple, which is still controlled by the royal family unlike other temples in Kerala which are managed by the government.

The vaults were searched after a lawyer petitioned the country's top court to order the government to take over the temple as it did not have adequate security.

Several temples in India have billions of dollars worth of wealth as devotees donate gold and other precious objects as gifts to spiritual or religious institutions that run hospitals, schools and colleges.

The Tirumala temple in eastern Andhra Pradesh state is reported to have 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) of gold, a third of which it deposited with the State Bank of India last year, while spiritual guru Sai Baba, who died in April, left behind an estimated $9 billion estate.