Clean Shave: Tirumala temple fires 243 barbers for ‘taking tips’ from pilgrims | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Clean Shave: Tirumala temple fires 243 barbers for ‘taking tips’ from pilgrims

On Saturday, the barbers staged a demonstration in front of the administrative office of the TTD, demanding that they be reinstated.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2017 19:56 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
A view of the Kalyana Katta, the huge hair-cutting saloon complex located near the Tirumala temple in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh.
A view of the Kalyana Katta, the huge hair-cutting saloon complex located near the Tirumala temple in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. (HT FILE PHOTO)

As many as 243 barbers working at the famous Tirumala temple in Andhra Pradesh have been sacked on charges of taking tips from pilgrims for tonsuring heads, following which they staged a demonstration demanding they be reinstated.

The barbers were sacked through notices issued three days back by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages India’s richest temple, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara, in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

On Saturday, the barbers staged a demonstration in front of the administrative office of the TTD, demanding that they be re-instated on humanitarian grounds as the sacking would deprive them of their livelihood.

The Tirumala temple has an estimated footfall of nearly 60,000-70,000 pilgrims on weekdays which touches the one lakh-mark during weekends and holidays. Nearly 70% of the pilgrims get their heads tonsured before having the darshan of Lord Venkateshwara as part of their vow to donate hair to the temple.

As many as 943 barbers, mostly recruited on contract basis, work in shifts round the clock at Kalyana Katta, the huge hair-cutting saloon complex located near the temple.

While tonsuring has to be done free of cost, the TTD has been receiving complaints from pilgrims that many of the barbers making them pay tips ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 50.

After a thorough verification of the complaints by the Vigilance and Security wing of the TTD and footage obtained from closed circuit cameras installed in Kalyana Katta, TTD executive officer Anil Kumar Singhal on Wednesday sacked 243 barbers.

“They are not regular recruits but taken on outsourcing at piece rate basis of Rs 10 per head. We have given them warning not once, but three times, asking them not to collect bribes from pilgrims. But they continued to fleece the pilgrims and hence, we were forced to take action,” TTD official spokesman T Ravi told Hindustan Times.

The sacked barbers, however, said they never demanded bribes from pilgrims, but the latter themselves would offer tips to them out of their own will.

“Some pilgrims do not want to get the tonsuring done free of cost. So, they give us some nominal amount, Rs 10 or Rs 20, for their own satisfaction. How can they call it as a bribe?” a barber told the local media.

The TTD authorities, however, are firm on their action. “We should not allow any corrupt practices on the holy hills. The barbers’ action is getting the temple a bad name. We shall recruit new barbers with good conduct shortly,” Ravi said.

The TTD engages several barbers on contract or outsourcing basis regularly to cope up with ever increasing pilgrim rush. In September 2006, the TTD even recruited 60 female barbers to facilitate tonsuring of female pilgrims, who feel embarrassed to go to male barbers.

The barbers also have to strictly follow hygienic practices like use of fresh blades for every head and regular sterilising of their razors.

Though it is not uncommon to sack barbers in small numbers whenever such complaints of corruption come to the notice of the TTD, it is for the first time that more than 200 barbers were removed at one stroke.

Interestingly, tonsuring of heads of pilgrims fetches huge income for the TTD. Every year, the TTD auctions human hair in a big way and earns Rs 150–200 crore.