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No Role in Lord Jagannath Temple's Rs 545 Crore Deposit in Yes Bank, Says Odisha Govt

File photo of Jagannath Temple in Puri.

File photo of Jagannath Temple in Puri.

Unhappy with the state government's reply during a debate on the issue, opposition Congress members staged a walkout while the BJP demanded either a CBI probe or a House Committee inquiry into the matter.

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha government on Thursday informed the Assembly that it has no role in depositing Lord Jagannath's Rs 545 crore in the Yes Bank and said the fund was deposited in the crisis-hit lender as it had offered the highest rate of interest in a tender process.

Unhappy with the state government's reply during a debate on the issue, opposition Congress members staged a walkout while the BJP demanded either a CBI probe or a House Committee inquiry into the matter.

Replying to the debate, Finance Minister Niranjan Pujari said the Lord's funds are managed by the Managing Committee of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) and not by the state government.

"The state government has no role in depositing the Lord's money in any bank," he said.

Pujari also informed the House that the SJTA deposited Rs 545 crore in the Yes Bank as it offered the highest interest rate of 8.61 per cent in a tender process.

Of the 12 commercial banks which had participated in the tender, Yes Bank quoted an interest rate at 8.61 per cent, followed by the IndusInd Bank (8.60 per cent) and the HDFC Bank (7.75 per cent) over the deposit to be made by the SJTA, the minister said.

"The SJTA chose to keep the money in fixed deposit for one year in the Yes Bank," he said.

The tenure of the fixed deposit ends this month.

However, the Yes Bank has been placed under a moratorium on March 5, with the RBI capping withdrawals at Rs 50,000 per account for a month.

Pujari said, "The finance department on October 21, 2019 wrote to all the departments to verify financial health of banks before parking money. However, the RBI had objected to it on October 25 saying the finance department cannot issue such a directive as the central bank has been keeping a tab on the financial condition of all banks."

The RBI had never given any indication of the financial situation of Yes Bank before March 5, 2020, he said.

The state government is also concerned over the safety of the Lord's Rs 545 crore in the Yes Bank, the minister said, adding that he has written a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 7.

The SJTA has also written to the RBI, and the ruling BJD MPs have met Sitharaman seeking her intervention for early release of the Lord's deposit with the Yes Bank, he said.

"The Centre has assured us to secure the Lord's money," Pujari said.

As the finance minister remained silent over the Opposition demand of setting up a House Committee to probe how the Lord's money was deposited in the private bank, Congress members walked out in protest.

"Why the chief minister is mum over the entire issue. He is the chairman of the Temple Foundation Fund. He should assure this House that the Lord's money is safe and secured," Congress legislature party leader Narasingha Mishra said before leading the walkout.

BJP Chief Whip Mohan Majhi accused the Naveen Patnaik government of playing with the sentiment of the devotees of Lord Jagannath. He also blamed the Temple Managing Committee charted accountant Bijay Sahoo and the then SJTA chief administrator P K Mohapatra for the "irregularity".

Majhi said if the government was sincere to punish those responsible for parking the Lord's money in a private bank, it should ask the CBI to probe the issue.

He also urged the Speaker to set up a House Committee to inquire into the matter.

When contacted by PTI, charted accountant Bijay Sahoo said, "I was not a party to the decision taken to deposit the money in Yes Bank, nor was I present in the managing committee meeting that decided the issue."

The then SJTA chief administrator P K Mohapatra, a senior IAS officer, said, "I do not want to comment as the matter is being debated in the Assembly."