‘Act of God’ doesn’t spare Tirumala as cash crunch hits richest shrine

Despite ₹12,000 crore fixed deposits and nine tonnes of gold reserve, it is facing difficulty to meet the recurring expenditure

Tirumala
Normally, the Tirumala temple attracts around 70,000 pilgrims daily from across the country and abroad | Photo: iStock File

It is not just the economy but even the richest temple in the country — Tirumala — doesn’t seem to be immune from the impact of the ‘Act of God’.

Despite being the wealthiest shrine with over ₹12,000 crore fixed deposits (FD) and nine tonnes of gold reserve, it is facing difficulty to meet the recurring expenditure.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the autonomous body that manages the affairs of the hill shrine in Andhra Pradesh, is grappling with liquidity crunch following a sharp fall in cash offerings by devotees. Though the temple was reopened in June after being shut for over 80 days due to the coronavirus outbreak, the footfall of pilgrims has come down drastically.

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So are the offerings by pilgrims. Normally, the hundi collections form the highest revenue source for the temple, followed by the interest accrued from its fixed deposits. The TTD’s annual budget is around ₹3,300 crore.

The temple board is now looking for new ways to address the liquidity issue. As part of these efforts, it has now decided to convert its cash deposits in various banks into monthly mode. The existing deposits earn interest on half-yearly and yearly basis and the amount is accrued at the end of the maturity period.

A decision to this effect was taken at the TTD trust board meeting held in Tirumala. The move to shift to the monthly mode of deposits was taken in view of serious cash crunch due to a sharp fall in income from pilgrim offerings on the account of Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged lockdown that forced the temple to remain shut for 80 days.

Normally, Tirumala temple, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara, attracts an average of 70,000 pilgrims daily from across the country and abroad. On special occasions and festivals, the number crosses the one-lakh mark.

Related news: Why India’s richest temple is caught in a cash crunch

At present, an average of 7,000 pilgrims are visiting the shrine every day, sources said. The temple is located in Chittoor district that has been reporting a high number of coronavirus cases.

Wearing masks and maintaining social distancing have been made mandatory for all pilgrims. All the crucial locations of the temple, including queue lines, guest houses and dining halls are being regularly sanitised, State Endowment Minister Vellampalli Srinivas said.

“We have decided to convert all the deposits into monthly mode with immediate effect. As the deposits are renewed every month, we can get monthly interest which can be used for paying salaries, bearing the overhead expenses and conducting regular rituals for the Lord,” TTD trust board chairman Y V Subba Reddy said.

As per the last year’s estimates, TTD has cash deposits in the banks to the extent of more than ₹12,000 crore. In the 2020-21 annual budget for the TTD, adopted in February this year, the board projected an income of ₹706 crore in the form of interest on deposits for the entire year.

Related news: Tirumala temple open to devotees despite surge in COVID-19 cases

Interest on deposits is the second highest source of income after the hundi (cash chest adjacent to the temple where devotees make offering) collections, which are projected at around ₹1,313 crore in the TTD’s annual budget with a total outlay of ₹3,309 crore.

“The hundi collections in April and May, when the lockdown was in force, were absolutely nil and were partial in March and June,” the TTD sources said.

TTD’s monthly outgo on salaries and pensions is around ₹120 crore. It spends ₹2,500 crore annually as fixed expenditure on poojas and other religious functions. Besides, the temple board spends ₹400 crore on various charitable trusts, including educational institutions, guest houses, hostels and healthcare facilities.

Besides being involved in many charitable activities, TTD has several educational institutions and healthcare facilities under its control.

Gold deposits

The TTD trust board also decided that the Lord’s gold deposits should be converted to long-term deposits from the current short-term, so as to get more interest.

Presently, the gold deposits are yielding 2.5 per cent income. Longer durations ranging up to 12 years will fetch a higher rate of interest.

TTD deposits surplus gold — donated by devotees but never used for the decoration of the Lord — in nationalised banks as per an order from the state government in 2000. When the RBI brought in gold monetisation scheme in 2015, the TTD deposited 5,387 kgs of gold in State Bank of India, 1,938 kgs in Indian Overseas Bank and 1,381 kgs in Punjab National Bank. The gold in PNB was withdrawn last year upon maturity and shifted to SBI.

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