The Tirumala Lord Balaji temple is surrounded by a fresh controversy over alleged hair smuggling from India to China via Myanmar and Thailand. The hair are said to be meant for making wigs.
Sleuths of the Assam Rifles seized 120 bags of hair in Chhungte area of Mizoram on February 7. While unconfirmed reports claim that the suspects told the police that the item was procured from the Tirumala hill shrine, the temple management stoutly denied any links. The opposition Telugu Desam Party and BJP suspect a scam and have demanded a statement from the temple management and the state government.
There is also a dispute over the value of the seized hair. While the political parties put the value at ₹ 2 crore, special officer of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) V Dharma Reddy said quoting customs officials that the seized hair was worth ₹ 18.17 lakh.
According to the TTD, the seizure report had no mention of the temple. The official also maintained that the contraband was unprocessed, whereas the TTD auctions only the processed ones. The TTD segregates the hair as first and second grades, based on the quality and length.
A large number of devotees, including men and women, offer their hair to the Lord of Seven Hills by way of tonsuring.
The TTD auctions the hair on a quarterly basis through e-auction, allowing international bidders. In February alone, 6.72 lakh devotees offered their hair.
The TTD projected ₹ 131 crore from the Kalyanakatta (or tonsuring wing) for the 2021-22 financial year, ₹ 6 crore more than the ₹ 125 crore estimate for the previous year.
The temple officials say anybody can participate in the auction and emerge successful in the bidding after the hair are segregated based on their quality and colour. The temple management’s role ends after handing over the stock to the successful bidder.
Executive officer Dharma Reddy dismissed criticism in social media as attempts for cheap publicity. “The security is so tight that not a single hair can be stolen from the temple,” he said.
The temple administration has lodged a complaint with the Tirupati East police station, where a case has been registered against six persons, including a vernacular media house.
TDP senior leader Ch Ayyannapatrudu has alleged that hair thieves had a nexus with people in the temple administration. Another leader Bandaru Satyanarayana Murthy demanded that the TTD board headed by chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s uncle, YV Subba Reddy, be dissolved for hurting the sentiments of Hindus.
BJP national secretary Sunil Deodhar has demanded a white paper on the hair episode.
The hair smuggling episode has emerged as a new tool for the opposition parties to attack the YSR Congress Party during the ongoing campaign for the by-election to Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency due April 17.
The TTD’s assurance to find out the company that had resorted to the alleged smuggling and blacklist it has not satisfied the opposition parties.