The richest Hindu temple trust in the world, the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the abode of Lord Balaji, is witnessing some of the most unholy acts of scandal and corruption.
The TTD, which receives annual donations from devotees in excess of Rs500 crore, has been rocked by multiple scams in recent months. Jewels and ornaments gifted by 16th century Hindu king Krishna Deva Raya have been found missing or not accounted for. Tickets meant for devotees have been used by politicians and powerful trustees for private profiteering. B Suresh, a camp clerk with TTD special officer Dharma Reddy’s office, committed suicide on Thursday night, apparently under pressure from bigwigs. And gold coins minted from the offerings of devotees have been sold apparently without proper receipts.
With angry devotees raising their voices against the way the lord’s wealth has been mulcted and mismanaged, the Andhra Pradesh government has appointed three bureaucrats — J Satyanarayana, IYR Krishna Rao, serving executive officer of the TTD, and V Nagi Reddy —to oversee the organisation’s work. The tenure of the 11-member board of TTD trustees, led by Congress leader DK Adikeshavulu Naidu, has now been terminated.
An enquiry commissioned by the government found that seva tickets (which allow devotes to be present for some pujas for a price) were sold in black to VIPs and other moneyed clients through a manipulation of the online system.
Tickets priced at nominal rates of Rs 100-200 were found to have been sold for several thousands of rupees – obviously with the connivance of untrustworthy trustees. A report submitted to the government by the TTD’s vigilance and enforcement department a few months back named 55 persons, including three board members, as complicit in these scams.
It recommended framing charges under IPC for breaching the trust of pilgrims. No action has been taken so far.
The alleged suicide of Suresh, the camp clerk, is being linked to pressure from bosses who wanted him to take the rap for the seva ticket scam. The police are yet to get to the bottom of this premature death.
However, the mother of all scams is still in the vaults of Lord Balaji: missing jewels, gems and ornaments. During Vijayanagar king Krishna Deva Raya’s reign in the 16th century, the temple was gifted several pieces of jewellery studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Since then, thousands of devotees have been donating gold jewellery to the TTD. According to temple rules, the TTD as a trust has to accept the gifts and offerings and keep them in safe custody.
However, the jewellery has not been audited properly for several years. In fact, one P Seshadri, officer on special duty (OSD), has managed the Bokkasam (treasury) for over 10 years.