Even before the row over auction of properties belonging to Andhra Pradesh's Tirumala temple could completely die down, a fresh controversy has embroiled the famous hill shrine.
The move by the YSRCP government to regularise the lands ‘additionally occupied' by two mutts on the hill has come under criticism from a section of devotees and opposition parties.
They have questioned the decision of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) and the government to allow the mutts, including the one headed by a swami considered close to Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, to take possession of the occupied lands when there is hardly any land available around the temple.
The state government on June 4 issued an order according permission for regularising an extent of 1,870 square feet additionally occupied by the Mouna Swamy Mutt and 4,817 square feet by Visakha Sri Saradha Peetham at Tirumala.
These mutts had occupied land in addition to what was originally allotted to them in the past. TTD, which manages the affairs of the world's richest Hindu temple, had passed a resolution in December last year to regularise the land and had accordingly made a request to the state government.
TTD fixed an additional lease amount of Rs 374 per square feet for the Mouna Swamy Mutt and Rs 964 per square feet for Visakha Sri Saradha Peetham.
The GO issued by Special Chief Secretary to Government, JSV Prasad referred to the representation received from the executive officer of TTD.
This is the latest in a series of controversies to hit the Sri Venkateswara Temple popularly known as Tirupati Balaji temple during the last one year. It came close on the heels of the row over TTD's move to auction some properties donated by devotees in Tamil Nadu.
Facing a backlash for its controversial decision, the TTD on May 29 decided that none of the immovable properties donated by the devotees will be disposed of.
The latest move became controversial as Visakha Sri Saradha Peetham is headed by Swamy Swaroopanandendra Saraswati, who had hailed the victory of Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP's victory in the last year's elections.
After taking oath as the chief minister, Jagan had visited the seer's ashram in Visakhapatnam to take his blessings.
The YSRCP chief has been following Swamy Swaroopanandendra for the last three years. Interestingly, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao also follows the seer and had visited his ashram for blessings after retaining power in 2018.
"Just for the political interest you can't allow somebody to occupy the land and then regularise it," P. Manikyala Rao, BJP leader and former minister, told IANS.
He said the government, the endowment department or the TTD had no right to give away temple lands which belong to devotees.
"Just because you could not protect the land does not mean you can regularise what somebody occupied. If somebody is occupying the land it shows the government's inability or inefficiency. If you can't protect the temple lands, hand it over to the concerned institution or otherwise leave the management (of the temple)" he said.
TTD chairman YV Subba Reddy, however, dismissed the criticism saying no new allotment has been made.
"This has not been done for individuals. They are the mutts who are engaged in propagation of Hindu dharma," the TTD chairman told IANS.
He said the mutts had raised the compound walls for protection from wild animals. "Due to COVID-19 the temple was closed for darshan and since there was no movement of devotees, the wild animals were straying into the area. To prevent this they erected fencing and raised compound walls," he explained.
Subba Reddy, who is maternal uncle of Jagan Mohan Reddy, said there was nothing wrong in what TTD or the government has done.
"The mutts already had their buildings which they were using for various activities related to propagation of Hindu dharma.To improve their existing facilities they had sought some more land," he said.
The mutts already have buildings in Tirumala. These buildings have kalyana Mandapam, meeting halls and rooms for devotees' stay.
Meanwhile, Subba Reddy on Friday said that he has ordered a probe into what he termed as 'frequent smear campaigns' frequently surfacing against the TTD.