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Profile of the Shree Somnath Trust in Gujarat

Indian Express profiles the Shree Somnath Trust, traditionally dominated by politicians. BJP president Amit Shah was appointed Trustee this week.

Written by Gopal Kateshiya |
Updated: January 15, 2016 4:38:03 pm
Temple is run by an 8-member Trust. Temple is run by an 8-member Trust.

Trust and its functions

The Shree Somnath Trust (SST) is a religious charitable trust registered under the Gujarat Public Trust Act, 1950. The Trust is governed by a deed that lays down the terms of its settlement with the then government of Saurashtra state. The Trust is the sole authority to manage and maintain the Somnath temple and 64 other temples in Prabhas Patan, its guesthouses, and the 2,000 acres of land it owns. The SST is different from the committees that manage other major temples like the Dwarkadhish temple, in that governments do not get any share of the temple revenue. The SST claims the right to regulate entry to the temple, and had issued public notices last year asking non-Hindus to seek permission from the general manager of the temple before entering the main structure.

Organisation, members

The Trust is governed by an eight-member Board of Trustees, including a chairman and a secretary. Member Trustees vote in elections to the post of chairman every year. The secretary’s tenure is not fixed.

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Membership of the Board of Trustees is for life — Jivan Parmar, a retired professor of Sanskrit from Veraval, has been a Trustee since 1975. A Trustee may resign voluntarily; the Board may also remove a Trustee for “breach of trust”. The Gujarat and central governments can nominate four Trustees each; traditionally, however, vacancies have been filled from a shortlist of candidates forwarded by the Board. There are seven Trustees currently: former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel who is also the chairman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, veteran BJP leader L K Advani, retired Gujarat chief secretary Pravin Laheri, Prof Parmar, chairman of the Kolkata-based Ambuja Neotia Group Harshavardhan Neotia, and BJP national president Amit Shah, who was appointed a Trustee at an SST meeting at the official residence of the Prime Minister in New Delhi on January 12. Dubai-based industrialist Rajen Kilachand, chairman of the Dodsal Group, resigned recently. Keshubhai, Modi, Laheri and Parmar are nominees of the Gujarat government; Advani, Neotia and Kilachand of the Centre. The fourth central government nominee was the former Congress MP from Bhavnagar, Prasannvadan Mehta, whose death a couple of years ago created the vacancy that Shah filled.

Politicians in the Trust

The SST has always been dominated by people holding high public offices. The temple bears the imprint of the first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who had vowed to rebuild it, and the first President, Rajendra Prasad, who inaugurated the temple. Earlier Boards were dominated by Congressmen; Mehta was the last of that tribe. The BJP now dominates, evidenced by the presence of Keshubhai, Modi, Advani and now Shah on the Board.

Modi became a member in 2010, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Morarji Desai too had been a Trustee as Prime Minister, and had hosted SST meetings at his official residence.

Trustees without apparent political affiliations have been usually persons who donate to the temple. Though it has always been dominated by politicians, the Trust has never been known to function as a political group. Advani was not an SST Trustee when he embarked on his Rath Yatra from Somnath in 1990.

Temple revenues, spends

Eight lakh pilgrims visit Somnath and other temples managed by SST every year on average. The annual budget of the SST last year was Rs 132 crore. The Trust has full control over the money generated through offerings and donations. It has more than 200 salaried employees. It is also building a Ram temple at the cost of Rs 10 crore, and another temple in Prabhas Patan where Lord Krishna is believed to have been killed by the arrow of a hunter. The Trust has donated Rs 55 lakh and a palace for establishing a Sanskrit University. It distributed Rs 50 lakh worth of sukhadi, a sweet made of wheat, jaggery and ghee, among anganwadi children in Gir Somanth district to help the state government’s efforts to tackle malnutrition.

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