Mumbai's Siddhivinayak temple to mobilise gold as India scrambles to cut imports

The 200-year-old Shree Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai has said it will deposit a portion of its gold hoard with a bank by the end of the month for recycling, responding to a government campaign to monetise some of the country's thousands of tonnes of privately owned stocks of gold and cut costly imports.

Officials from finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India met on Friday to discuss modifying the much-publicised scheme after managing to attract deposits of only three tonnes of gold in four months out of an estimated pool of 20,000 tonnes stacked away in family lockers and temple vaults.

Indians love gold, both as a store of wealth and gifts for humans and gods alike, and the country's appetite for it is next only to China's. Annual imports run to as much as 1,000 tonnes, accounting for about a quarter of the annual trade deficit.

Dozens of rich temples have collected billions of dollars in gold jewellery, bars and coins over the centuries, hidden securely in vaults, some ancient and some modern.

One of them, the Shree Siddhivinayak temple devoted to the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha, is now examining various proposals and will soon choose a bank to deposit 44 kg out of its total stash of 160 kg of gold, said a senior official at the trust that manages it.

The official said they did not want to be named before a statement is issued, which is likely to happen next week.

India's economic affairs secretary, Shaktikanta Das, said after Friday's meeting that temple trusts have started expressing an interest in the monetisation scheme but did not name any.

Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, the richest Hindu temple in the world popularly known as the Tirupati Temple, said at the end of last year it could deposit more than 5.5 tonnes under the monetisation programme.

Apart from monetisation, last year Prime Minister Narendra Modi also launched a gold bond programme to soften demand for physical gold.

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