A nationalised bank has collected Rs 4 crore on behalf of the Tirumala temple without keeping the country's wealthiest religious shrine in the loop about the proceeds meant for a 'special darshan'. The temple's managing body has now ordered a probe.
Lord Balaji's Tirumala temple, which has an annual budget of Rs 2,300 crore, has also failed to notice that it has lost nearly Rs 1 crore in interest over the Rs 4 crore collection since 2011. This was the year the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams (TTD), which manages the temple's affairs, discontinued the sale of tickets to devotees for its 'Udayastamana Seva' — a day-long darshan for families to participate in all the rituals at the temple, with prasadam and accommodation. Each ticket for this seva cost Rs 1 lakh and entitled darshan to a maximum of five family members at a future date.
The 'Udayastamana Seva' service was sold out till 2015, and so the TTD Board, in 2011, discontinued accepting advance payment for the same. However, lack of publicity about this decision allowed a bank to keep accepting advance booking from pilgrims for the service. The Board learnt this when a pilgrim, who had paid Rs 10 lakh to the bank, wrote directly to them last month to enquire about the status of his darshan. It was only then that the TTD Board realised that the bank had been collecting advances since 2011 for seva tickets from 2015 to 2020 without its approval and depositing the money in one of the Board's 1,000 accounts with the bank under the name of AAP, TTD.
"There is no financial loss," said a senior TTD official who looks into the Boards finances. "But someone has sold tickets for a darshan seva that is not authorised without our knowledge. The Udhayasthamana seva tickets are already booked till 2015 and there is no sale of (these) tickets since 2011 onwards."
When contacted, the bank, whose name the TTD Board wished to keep under wraps, did not comment.
Lakhs of pilgrims visit Tirumala every day; in 2013 alone, its hundi collection was Rs 800 crore in addition to Rs 200 crore garnered from the sale of devotees' tonsured hair. The scale of affairs at Tirumala is therefore huge and prone to misuse and fraud. In 2011, the then executive officer IYR Krishna Rao scrapped most 'Arjita Sevas (darshan seva categories) following a scandal in advance booking by VVIPs, including by member of Parliament T Subbarami Reddy, for nearly 15-20 years. It was at the time that the sale of tickets for the Udhyasthamana seva too stopped as advance booking was full till 2015.