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Monday, November 28, 2022

Andhra’s Christian CM mulls selling Tirupati land assets

The Covid-19 induced economic crisis has become a handy tool for ‘secular’ Governments across Bharat to start eyeing Hindu temples and their assets. At the forefront of such moves are the Communist government of Kerala and now the Christian CM ruled Andhra Pradesh government.

One of the richest temple trusts in the world, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) which is controlled by the AP government is mulling liquidation of assets like land parcels and buildings donated by devotees to Sri Venkateswara to provide salaries of its about 22,000 personnel – if the temple does not reopen by June.

Deccan Herald reports

“Though the value of the temple’s land tracts, edifices like cottages and other properties lying unused across the country, including cities like Chennai, Mumbai, is estimated to be several thousands of crore rupees, sources say, the estate identification for the present purpose is about Rs 500 crore worth

…The public shutdown has severely affected the richest Hindu temple’s main income source – hundi donations of Rs 1351 crore expected in 2020-21….Income from laddu sales, special darshan and arjitha Seva tickets, accommodation etc., receipts accounting for over Rs 900 crore annually is also hit.

At the same time, TTD has to pay about Rs 115 crore every month in salaries and pensions. TTD’s 22,000 workforce includes regular, contract-based and outsourced employees. The over 7000 regular employees are getting half salaries since March. Various maintenance costs are in addition.

The temple has about Rs 14,000 crore bank fixed deposits, which earns Rs 706 crore interest this fiscal. It also has a gold reserve of eight-tonne. However, touching these two assets of sentimental value is not an option yet, officials say.

Speaking to DH, TTD board chairman YV Subba Reddy expressed confidence that such a situation would not arise as the temple possibly would reopen within a month, “with God’s grace.”

“(In an unlikely situation of the temple remains closed for some more time,) we are exploring various revenue-generating options like liquidating some of TTD’s assets. We have a lot of valuable properties outside Tirupati lying unused – lands, choultries in even cities like Chennai and Mumbai, which were offered by the devotees. We are identifying them to help us in such times,” the chairman said.

A decision is expected in the TTD board meeting on 28 May.”

Swarajya informs us that TTD has identified 23 immovable properties across neighbouring Tamil Nadu for initial auction, with the the value of these properties have been estimated at around Rs 1.50 crore. TTD Chairman Y V Subba Reddy justified the sale saying the properties were “unviable and not maintainable by the TTD” and that TTD had disposed of 129 such properties between 1974 and 2014. Apparently, a proposal to sell 50 properties was cleared by the TTD board on 30 January 2016.

While BJP has called the move “most disastrous,” former TTD Trust Board member and TDP leader Bonda Umamaheswara Rao alleged that the government was trying to dispose of the valuable lands of the TTD at cheaper prices to supporters of Reddy’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).

The move certainly seems questionable if the initial sale of 23 properties is estimated to raise just Rs 1.5 crore whereas the requirement per month to pay salaries is Rs 115 crore. Given the way temple lands & other properties are under-valued by Govt. executives while being rented or leased – in TN, the true income of temple and endowment properties is estimated at Rs. 5000 to 6000 crores per annum, while government realises only Rs. 200 crores – the concern raised by former TTD Trust Board member Shri Rao is very real.

It is pertinent to note that during a visit to Tirupati before he became Andhra CM, Jagan Reddy did not follow temple rules and sign the declaration form meant for non-Hindus professing faith in Sri Balaji, the presiding deity. Can a man who doesn’t even respect this most revered of Hindu sacred places be expected to do justice in its management?

Why is it that only temples struggle to pay salaries, even though they have been controlled by the secular state since Independence and their assets used to bail the government out on several occasions? Why don’t governments ever consider nationalising the enormous land banks with the Christian Church, most of which are prime plots in city centers leased out by the British colonial rulers, including lands appropriated from Hindu temples? It is estimated that the Catholic Church is the largest landowner in the country after the government – imagine what the combined holdings of all Christian denominations would be.

Ever since he came to power last year, Jagan Reddy has been brazen in using state power to further his Christian evangelical agenda. Here are some of the disturbing steps taken by his Government, or others facts that have emerged-

  • Honorarium of Rs 5,000 per month announced for pastors.
  • Preparing to fulfill other YSR Congress Party manifesto promises for the Christian community — like plots and house construction for pastors, and financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh for wedding of Christian girls, among others.
  • State sponsored tour period for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem in Israel and other Biblical places enhanced from eight to 10 days. Financial assistance increased from Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 (for those with annual income up to Rs 3 lakh), and from Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 (for those with annual income over Rs 3 lakh).
  • Printing of religious content pertaining to Christianity on the back of government tickets, documents – ads for ‘holy Jerusalem tour’ were printed on the reverse side of tickets for buses plying between Tirumala and Tirupati; pictures of Jesus Christ were printed on ration cards
  • Rise in the number of church buildings — legally or illegally — in the state. Video posts on social media show evangelical activities as being carried out in village/ward secretariat buildings inaugurated by the YSRCP government.
  • Guntur District Collector Samuel Anand Kumar, while speaking at an educational institution for pre-Christmas celebrations, said that 6000 Christians got appointed to government jobs in Guntur district alone. A complaint was lodged against him under Central Civil Service (CCS) (Conduct) Rules 1964 for openly promoting a religion.
  • Sections of AP Police Department formed a religious body called ‘Soldiers for Jesus – Police’.
  • In a reply to an RTI query on selection of beneficiaries for the government’s ‘Chandranna Christmas Kanuka’ scheme for Christians, government officials replied that they treat the entire SC (Scheduled Caste) population as Christians and as such they extended the scheme to all SC people, whereas it should be given only to Christians.

A careful study of data from Andhra Pradesh indicates that over the years those practising Christianity have obtained Hindu-SC caste certificates to garner each and every opportunity and facility given for benefit of SCs – like reservations in political constituencies, nominated posts, jobs, educational opportunities, scholarships, hostels, housing etc. The state is believed to have undergone large scale conversions to Christianity during Jagan Reddy’s father YSR’s (considered close to Congress President Sonia Gandhi) regime from 2004-09.

Now, Jagan Reddy seems to be carrying forward his father’s legacy of unabashed state-sponsored Christian evangelism. And treating Hindu temples as cash-cows in the process.

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