Exclusive : Tirumala temple to ensure darshan post-lockdown with social distancing

The temple at Tirumala like all places of worship in India, has been shut for darshan for close to two months now. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) is now gearing up to modify the darshan arrangements in sync with measures like social distancing and wearing of masks. 

T S Sudhir of Filter Kaapi Live spoke to YV Subba Reddy, the TTD Chairman.

T S Sudhir : I note that the temple is being made ready with lines being drawn to ensure social distancing between devotees while they are waiting for darshan of Lord Venkateswara.

YV Subba Reddy : We are taking steps to be ready whenever the lockdown ends and the government gives us the go-ahead to reopen the temple. We are taking all precautions. 

Sudhir : Usually 80000 to one lakh devotees get darshan of the Lord daily. With these measures put in place, how many would TTD be able to accommodate now?

Reddy : Cannot say. But I do not think it will be even 50 per cent of the usual number. In any case, we will initiate darshan in a phased manner. In the initial days after darshan is allowed, we intend to let in only 5000 to 10000 devotees. That number will be gradually increased to 25000. Before all this, we plan to conduct a trial run with our one thousand TTD employees who work uphill at Tirumala. 

Sudhir : Most temples have taken a huge hit in terms of hundi collections. That includes Tirumala. Give us a sense of the impact on the receipts and expenditure of the TTD.

Reddy : Our God is powerful and rich. He will help us come out of this problem. 

Sudhir : Most of your expenditure is taken care of from the hundi collections and other sources of revenue, isn’t it?

Reddy : Yes. Our daily hundi collections are Rs 3.5 crore. Along with rent, sale of prasadam and hair, we generate a monthly revenue of Rs 200 crore. The monthly expenditure on salaries, maintenance of institutions and temples not just in Tirumala but also in Tirupati and three hospitals comes to about Rs 125 crore. 

Sudhir : Which means even though the collections are nil over the last two months, you would have reserve cash to see you through?

Reddy : We paid the salaries to 20000 employees for March and April. We won’t have an issue for May but for June, we will need to mobilise funds. We have a corpus of Rs 13000 crore in the banks and nine tonnes of gold reserves but we will not touch that in this crisis situation. 

Sudhir : Why were 1200 contract employees removed from service if there are sufficient funds with the TTD?

Reddy : They were not TTD employees, they were working with a private contractor. This was as part of a facilitation contract to take care of the cleaning and sanitation. The contractor’s term had come to an end. He had been appointed by the previous TDP government and was working for the last five years. We wanted to appoint a new contractor but that process took 6 months to complete. 

Meanwhile, these 1200 employees came out on the streets the day they were removed by the contractor. They came and met me too. I asked for the contract to the old contractor to be extended by a month so that these employees continue in their jobs. When the new contractor takes over, these employees will move to his account. That has been the practise here. 

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