Does Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala have a regional bias? This is what the head priest of the famous Chilkur Balaji temple in Telangana, Dr MV Soundar Rajan, feels.
Sounder Rajan filed a petition in the Hyderabad high court on Tuesday demanding Telangana be given more than Rs 1,000 crore in revenues by the Lord Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh, the richest shrine in the country. He alleged that the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, which manages the Tirumala temple, had neglected hundreds of temples of Telangana.
The high court, which admitted the petition, served notices to the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments, besides the TTD. The hearing of the case was posted for three weeks later.
According to Sounder Rajan, the TTD has to contribute to the Endowments Administration Fund (EAF) and the Common Good Fund of the endowments department to the extent of 7% and 5% respectively to enable the department to take up renovation of dilapidated temples, welfare programmes for priests and other charitable purposes.
However, the TTD has not been releasing its dues since 2003 and the outstanding amount is nearly Rs 2,300 crore till 2014, when the united Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated to form Telangana state. “Going by the revenue sharing formula of 52:48 between AP and Telangana as per the AP Reorganisation Act, Telangana will have to get its share of Rs 1,000 crore from the TTD,” Sounder Rajan argued.
“Let Andhra Pradesh take the revenue from the TTD after 2014. We want the Telangana share in the TTD revenues prior to the bifurcation. The temples of Telangana were subject to utter neglect during the united Andhra regime as there were no funds from the TTD. Let it clear all its dues to Telangana and we shall manage our Telangana temples,” said the head priest of Chilkur Balaji temple. This shrine is also popularly known as the Visa Balaji temple owing to a belief that devotees aspiring to go abroad get their visa without any hassles if they pray to the deity at Chilkur, located on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Sounder Rajan, who has been championing the Temples Protection Movement (TPM), said he had to take the legal recourse, as several letters written to the AP government as well as the TTD authorities were ignored.
Interestingly, even the Telangana government has been actively pursuing the case of recovering dues from the TTD. Telangana minister T Harish Rao told the assembly recently the TTD was to clear its dues of Rs 241 crore to be paid under Common Good Fund. However, Sounder Rajan says the dues would be more than Rs 1,000 crore, taking into consideration the Endowment Administration Fund also.
The Tirumala temple is estimated to get revenue of Rs 2,530 crore this year, with hundi collections in the form of offerings accounting for Rs 905 crore. Interest on investments is the second major source of income with the estimates being pegged at Rs. 744.91 crore, followed by the sale of special entrance tickets that are expected to fetch Rs. 215 crore. In addition, the TTD expects to net an income of Rs 200 crore from the sale of human hair, Rs 145 crore by way of sale of laddu and other prasadams followed by Rs. 98.50 crore from guest houses and Rs 50 crore through sale of arjitha seva tickets, among others.