Sri Venkateshwara temple, popularly known as Tirumala temple. Temple officials have said that without any income for nearly two months, it has already incurred an expenditure of Rs3 billion on salaries, pension and other recurring expenses. Image Credit: Supplied

Hyderabad: The world’s richest Hindu temple management body, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), has expressed its inability to pay salaries to its employees and bear the day to day expenses of running the temples’ affairs.

TTD, whose main source of income is Sri Venkateshwara Temple atop the Tirumala Hills in Andhra Pradesh, has informed its employees that it would not be able to pay this month’s salary on time.

TTD officials said that it has already incurred a revenue loss of Rs4 billion (Dh194 million) due to the closure of Tirumala temple due to the COVID-19 related lockdown since March 20.

“The average monthly income of Tirumala temple alone is Rs2 billion to Rs2.2 billion. But since the temple was closed due to lockdown, there has been no revenue,” said YV Subba Reddy, chairman of TTD.

Earlier, the TTD had discontinued the services of 1,300 contract workers in its sanitation and other wings on the grounds of cash crunch and its income from the offerings of the devotees and other services had come down to zero.

TTD officials said that without any income for nearly two months, it has already incurred an expenditure of Rs3 billion on salaries, pension and other recurring expenses.

With huge gold reserves of 8 tonnes and fixed deposits of Rs140 billion, managing the situation should not have been a problem for the Trust, but officials said they wanted to overcome the present crisis without touching any of its reserves.

As per the TTD’s annual budget for 2020-21, the Trust incurs an expenditure of Rs1.2 billon on salaries and pensions alone every year. In addition to the recurring expenditure on running day to day affairs on its temples, the Trust also gives grants to its healthcare institutions, including the famous Sri Venkateshwara Hospital, worth Rs4 billon.

On the whole TTD has a fixed annual expenditure of Rs25 billion, says Subba Reddy. TTD’s position that it has run out of cash and does not have money to pay salaries, pensions and other daily expenses has rattled about 5,000 of its employees.

The temple, situated atop the seven hills near Tirupati, has never faced this kind of financial crisis in its more than 1,000 year history.

Questions are being raised on why the state government wants the temple to shut down while allowing the reopening of liquor shops for the sake of its revenue.

For Tirumala the main source of income was the offerings dropped in Hundi (box) by the devotees. On normal days the temple attracts about 100,000 pilgrims. The number goes up to half a million on special religious days. TTD, which has an annual budget of Rs33.3 billion for this year, also gets additional revenue from the entry ticket (Darshan tickets), special donations and offering, in addition to the daily offerings, charges towards the priestly services (arjitha, seva and Prasad) and accommodation. “Now the temple is not getting any thing from any of these sources”, a senior official said.

However, the priests were following the scriptures and conducting all the daily and weekly rituals in the closed temple, officials said.

Now either the government has to ease the lockdown and allow the pilgrims into the temple or the TTD will have to break its fixed deposits and withdraw money, an official said.