HE'S the world's richest god and going by the
number of pilgrims visiting his abode, he could
arguably be the most powerful one too. The value
of his worldly possessions seems to be almost
half the size of the Andhra Pradesh state budget
of 1 lakh crore. And the onus of protecting his
worldly possessions rests with the trust manning
To protect this asset, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam
(TTD) board has decided to buy insurance cover
on the jewellery of Lord Venkateswara, valued
at around 52,000 crore. The decision will throw
open the country's biggest gold insurance market.
"No single insurance company can underwrite
such a risk on its own books...," said a
senior official of a large nonlife firm. The board
is looking at partnering with a state-owned general
insurance firm for insuring these assets. The
insurer who gets the mandate will have to strike
a reinsurance deal with an international reinsurer.
Every day, close to 70,000 devotees visit Tirupati
Balaji temple. In many cases the donations are
unusually generous. Karnataka minister Gali Janardhan
Reddy, for instance, had offered a diamondstudded
crown worth 42 crore to the god last year.
The temple owns about 20 tonne of gold and diamond
jewellery and some of them date back to the 12th
century. "We have decided to take insurance
cover for these valuable assets. Considering that
some of these jewellery come under the antique
category, it will be insured based on its historical
value. Currently, we are in the process of assessing
the exact value at which these assets can be insured
and we have an in-house team looking into it.
Only after the completion of the valuation process
we can go for an insurance cover and then we will
decide on the formalities for selecting the insurance
company," said a TTD official.
Despite TTD's efforts, insuring the wealth of
Tirupati Balaji seems to be a mammoth task and
has remained an unfulfilled wish. Insurance experts
say the premium can be quite high considering
the risks involved and antique characteristics
of the assets. Arriving at antique value of jewellery
can be a huge challenge for TTD as they need to
have documentation to prove historical significance.
TTD assets likely to be valued at over $10
INSURERS say if all the gold is in one place,
it would require reinsurance support and this
might call for surveys. TTD is still at a stage
where it is trying to estimate the value and would
only then hold discussions for a cover. Usually,
government departments proceed on their insurance
plans by issuing an RFP (request for proposals)
followed by submission of bids.
Though TTD is yet to come out with exact valuation
of the assets to be insured, preliminary data
shows it could be over $10 billion. This can be
considered as the largest in terms of assets in
a single location, considering that over 80% of
the valuable assets belong to the sacred temple
of Sri Venkateswara located on the seventh peak,
Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill.
TTD maintains 12 temples and their sub-shrines.Till
now, ONGC with assets spread in several locations,
has the largest insurance cover of $26 billion.
In fact, the board's decision to insure the gold
comes in the backdrop of many alleged reports
of jewellery pilferage. Last year, the head priest
of a Tirupati temple had confessed to stealing
520 gm gold necklace of a Venkateshwara deity.
He had pledged it for Rs 10 lakh to get his daughter
Earlier this year, TTD officials admitted that
there were no documents on the jewellery of Sri
Krishnadevaraya period of 1500 AD. And many believe
some of these antique jewellery might have even
been converted into other ornaments.
"This is the first time TTD is planning
to insure these assets and most people know that
it is a result of the pilferage. It will be difficult
to assess the historical value of these items
unless the board has the expertise in calculating
it as per globally accepted practises. When insurance
companies evaluate the value of these assets,
they will look at the risk associated with the
insured item and the premium may go up accordingly,"
said an insurance industry expert.
"Most insurance companies have guidelines
to assess the historical value of items. In order
to insure antique jewellery, it is important for
the insurance company and the board to reach a
consensus on the value of these items to calculate
the premium," said SL Mohan, General Insurance
According to him, globally, while insuring an
antique item, insurance companies will not take
the responsibility of replacing it if the item
is stolen or missing. "It is for the custodian
of that item to protect it from theft. Insurance
companies can just provide a risk cover, commensurate
with the historical value of the item. For instance,
if a company insures the painting of Pablo Picasso
for a sum, they are not thinking of replacing
it in case of an eventuality. The insurance company
can just pay an amount as possible risk cover,"