Will Never Touch Gold or Cash Deposits to Pay Salaries to Staff, Says Tirupati Balaji Temple

IANS

Closed for darshan for nearly two months due to coronavirus lockdown, the revenues of Sri Venkateswara temple at Andhra Pradesh's Tirumala have hit the rock bottom but the body which runs the affairs of the world's richest temple said it has the reserves to pay salaries to its employees for May.

Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Chairman Y. S. Subba Reddy told IANS that despite the crisis, it has the reserves to pay salaries for the month of May. He is also confident of mobilising resources to pay salaries and take care of other expenses for maintenance of the temple for the next month, if required.

He, however, ruled out drawing money from the fixed deposits or gold deposits in the bank.

"That will not happen. Our Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has given instructions that we should not touch deposits because it is a sentimental issue. Gold and fixed deposits are given by devotees from all the country. That is sentimental. Only Hundi and other collections have to go to corpus," he said.

Balaji temple, as the hill shrine is also popularly known, is reported to have nine tonnes of gold reserve and Rs 14,000 crore fixed deposits in various banks.

"Drawing from deposits does not arise. Still, we don't know what will happen in future. We will see to it that it does not happen and we continue all customs and procedures perfectly," said Subba Reddy, who is also the maternal uncle of the Chief Minister.

The temple was closed for devotees on March 19, much before the announcement of lockdown. The TTD is losing almost Rs 200 crore revenue every month due to the closure.

"We get the revenue through Hundi, Arjita Sevas, auction of hair, room rents and other sources. Room rent, hair and others operate on a cost to cost basis and the main revenue is thorough Hundi," he said.

The temple earns Rs 1,000 crore to Rs 1,200 crore from 'Hundi' collections or offerings by devotees every year.

"We are passing through difficult times not just we but the entire country and the whole world through the crisis due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In these times we were forced to close darshan for devotees but the temple maintenance, pooja programmes are continuing in accordance with the temple procedure and systems. We have to maintain temples, conduct poojas, organise festivals as per the programme. Whether there is work or no work, you have to pay salaries to the employees. We have already managed for two months."

TTD spends Rs 125 crore every month towards payment of salaries, maintenance of temples and security.

"We paid salaries for March and April. We have some reserves kept ready for paying salaries for May. For June, we will have to raise some other sources. I am confident we will work out some formula and mobilise," he said.

"I don't know. As of now I can't say. I hope the Lord will not allow the situation to come to that stage," the TTD chairman said when asked if he would look for support from the state government.

The hill shrine attracts 50,000 to one lakh pilgrims every day. The number on special occasions like the annual Brahmotsavam and festivals goes up to 4-5 lakh.

The devotees make offerings in the form of cash, gold and silver jewellery, property deeds and even demat shares.

For 2020-2021, TTD had presented a Rs 3,310 crore budget with the cash offerings by devotees projected at Rs 1,351 crore.

The temple trust expects Rs 706 crore interest on deposits in nationalised and private banks, Rs 302 crore from the sale of tickets for various forms of worship and Rs 400 crore from laddu 'prasadam'.

The earnings from the auction on human hair to be offered by millions of devotees as fulfillment of their vow were likely to be Rs 106 crore.