For the last few days, Tirupati Temple Devasthanams (TTD) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Situated in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, the Tirumala Tirupati Temple is a temple of Lord Vishnu. The temple has been shut for the first time in 128 years. The Tirumala Tirupati Temple is known to be the world’s richest temple, but it has struggled to pay salaries to its staff and most recently was in the news for putting out a notice to auction properties. We delve into the reality of the matter.
On 10 May 2020, the TTD reported a revenue loss of Rs 400 crore due to the lockdown and declared that the temple trust was unable to pay salaries. Prior to the 10th May announcement, the temple had already sacked 1,300 contractual workers. TTD spokespersons claimed that they had already spent close to Rs 300 crores towards salaries, pensions and other recurring expenses. The trust estimates pay-out for human resources in the year 2020-21 of Rs 1385.09 crores. In addition, it also has to extend financial grants to healthcare institutions run by it of about Rs 400 crores. This comes as a significant burden to the trust as its main source of revenue is darshan and allied sources of income. With over 9,000kg of gold reserves, most of the temple’s wealth is in the form of gold and fixed deposits. Devotees generally make offerings in form of cash, gold, property and even equity shares at times.
If this was not enough, the TTD announced on 24 May 2020 that it will be auctioning 50 properties situated in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. This news kicked up a controversy and shocked millions of devotees around the world. The TTD in its public statement held, “The practice of selling immovable and non-maintainable properties has been in vogue since 1974, as 129 such properties were disposed of between 1974 and 2014”. The fact of the matter is that TTD has been compelled to sell off these properties as they are unviable for investment and are situated in far-off locations. During this time of revenue crunch, the temple is innovating income models, and this appears to be a strategic sale of assets to raise money. So, while it is true that the TTD is selling properties and even selling prasadam at 50% less than its actual price, it is being done to sustain revenue.
Opposition parties demanded that the AP government should intervene and provide assistance to the religious body. They also condemned the decision to sell properties in the strongest of words. While this order has been shelved for the time being, the Andhra Pradesh endowments department has regularised a piece of 4,817 square feet land under ‘occupation’ of chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s guru, Swaroopanandendra Saraswati Swamy. Only time will tell what the future holds for Tirupati.