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India temple: Last treasure vault stays shut says court

image captionMuch more treasure is believed to still lie undiscovered in the temple vaults

The final vault at a temple in India's Kerala state should not be opened until treasure already recovered is fully documented, the Supreme Court has said.

Six vaults at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple contain a huge collection of precious stones, gold and silver worth millions of dollars.

Five of the vaults have been opened and the contents itemised.

The sixth and most secure vault will remain closed while officials digitally archive their contents, the court said.

A panel of experts appointed by the Supreme Court is inspecting treasures already recovered at the temple, which is looked after by descendants of the Travancore royal family.

The court accepted all suggestions by the five-member expert committee headed by CV Ananda Bose, director general of India's National Museum, which is engaged in the tough job, except the suggestion of taking over the temple's security by the central forces from the state police.

"The court felt that the current security provided by the state government was satisfactory," said CV Ananda Bose, director general of India's National Museum, who heads the panel.

"The court's is the last word. We'll follow its strictures in letter and spirit."

Local legend has long held that vast riches were interred in the walls and vaults of the temple by the Maharajas of Travancore over many years.

Historians say it is almost impossible to assess the value of the objects, but officials have said it could be more than £12bn ($20bn).

Neither the state of Kerala nor the descendants of the Travancore royal family have made any claim on the treasure, which they say is the property of the temple and its deity.

But the discovery has sparked a public debate, with many believing the items should be put in museums or sold and the profits used for public good.

Security has since been stepped up at the temple, which is now one of the richest in the world.

Temple officials were pleased at the court ruling.

"For us, there's nothing to worry about. Protection of the temple wealth is for everybody's interest," said VK Harikumar, executive officer of the temple administration.

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