GEORGE TOWN: Penang Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) chairman P Ramasamy today clarified that he was not involved in a fight with a group of angry men at a temple in Seberang Perai last week.
He said he was standing on the sidelines as a group of angry men — believed to be linked to the previous temple administrators — attacked the HEB officials present.
Speaking to FMT, the Penang deputy chief minister II said the HEB had gone on Dec 24 to announce that the board was taking over the troubled Sri Mangalanayagi Amman Temple in Bukit Tengah, Bukit Mertajam.
“When we arrived at the temple, the gates were locked. So we proceeded to prise it open as it was already legally under the HEB.
“A group of people, likely with links to the association which once ran the temple, were unhappy with us for breaking the locks and our presence there.
“A group of men started shoving one of our HEB officials.
“A police report was then lodged over the matter. Six men were rounded up for rioting and subsequently released on police bail. We hear police are looking for two more suspects,” he said.
The HEB is a Penang government statutory body.
Ramasamy said takeover plans were submitted to the state executive council and approval was obtained on Oct 18. Governor Abdul Rahman Abbas gave his assent to do so on Dec 19.
He said the HEB is empowered to take over temples that are mismanaged or had been deregistered under the Hindu Endowments Ordinance 1906.
A viral video has been circulating showing a group of angry men demanding HEB members leave the temple. On social media, the video carries a message that Ramasamy and others were assaulted by the men.
A closer look at the video showed Ramasamy standing on the sidelines as the men started attacking HEB secretary R Surenthran. The men dragged Surenthran out of the temple and started hurling expletives at the others, including Ramasamy, wanting them to leave.
The men were also upset that the HEB members were wearing shoes in the temple. However, that portion of the temple has been closed for renovations for the past two years.
Ramasamy said the takeover was decided after an association running the temple was found to have allegedly mismanaged donations from devotees.
Ramasamy said the complaints against the temple were received as early as May and were later investigated by the Registrar of Societies (RoS), which in turn deregistered the association in August.
He said some 250 residents in Bukit Tengah had petitioned for the HEB to “rescue” the temple, which they say had been mismanaged, with the main temple building closed for renovations for the past two years.
Ramasamy said the petitioners also claimed that over RM100,000 in donations had allegedly gone missing and that the association had allegedly continued collecting donations despite it being deregistered.