Shimla, July 8 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh is set to allow gold-rich temple trusts to melt tonnes of the precious metal in their coffers to turn them into mementoes as is done at the Vaishno Devi shrine in Kashmir.
The government is shortly going to sign an agreement with the public sector Mines and Minerals Trading Corp (MMTC), according to an official.
"An MMTC team will be in Shimla next week to finalise the nitty-gritty before signing the agreement," Rakesh Kanwar, director of the Language, Art and Culture department, told IANS.
He said both gold and silver lying in the treasuries of 20 government-controlled Hindu temples would be used for making souvenirs for sale.
"But the conversion of the metals into souvenirs would be done only after its purification," he said.
Besides souvenirs, gold coins weighing between two grams and 20 gm and silver coins from 20 gm to 200 gm would be minted.
The coins and the mementoes would have inscriptions of the respective temple deities.
According to government estimates, more than 300 kg of gold and 22,500 kg of silver are with the 20 temples.
The government last year amended the Himachal Pradesh Hindu Public Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1984, that allowed conversion of 50 percent of the metal reserves in temples into mementoes.
An official said the conversion would help temples part with loads of gold and silver lying for decades and also check pilferage.
"Keeping the precious metal in safe custody is a costly affair. The income from the sale of coins and mementoes will be used for temple development and social activities," state temple administrator Prem Prasad Pandit said.
The hill state, also known as the "Land of the Gods", has 28 prominent Hindu temples that have a combined cash reserve of Rs.100 crore.
The shrine of Mata Chintpurni in Una district is the richest.
Other rich temple trusts include those of Naina Devi in Bilaspur, Baba Balak Nath in Hamirpur, Jwalaji, Chamunda Devi and Brajeshwari Devi in Kangra and Bhimakali and Hateshwari in Shimla.
According to the government proposal, only 50 percent of the total gold and silver lying with a temple would be converted into coins and mementoes.
"Of the remaining 50 percent, 10 percent is to be kept with the temple trust, 20 percent will be invested in gold bonds of the State Bank of India and the remaining will be used to adorn the deities," said an official.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)
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