The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally, actor-politician Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena Party (JSP) have taken up the issue, calling it an 'insult' to the sentiments of Hindus.

The Sri Venkateswara temple atop Tirumala in Andhra PradeshImage: Wikimedia Commons/Nikhil B
news Controversy Monday, May 25, 2020 - 16:08

A row is underway in Andhra Pradesh after the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the affairs of the Sri Venkateswara temple, said that it had decided to auction 50 of its immovable properties that are 'unviable, not useful and prone to encroachment.'

These immovable properties include 17 properties in rural Andhra Pradesh, nine in urban parts of the state, 23 in Tamil Nadu besides one property spanning 1.20 acres in Rishikesh, where the land has been allegedly encroached upon and illegal constructions have come up.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally, actor-politician Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena Party (JSP) have taken up the issue, calling it an 'insult' to the sentiments of Hindus, TTD has defended its decision, stating that these properties, donated by devotees, will be encroached upon if they do not act on it.

The temple trust also said that the move to sell these immovable properties was proposed by the previous board, during the tenure of the N Chandrababu Naidu government, and a resolution in this regard was passed in 2016, said TTD Chairman YV Subba Reddy. From 1974, the board in charge of India's richest temple has been auctioning its smaller properties.

Criticisms by BJP, Pawan Kalyan

The BJP has started a campaign — 'Save TTD' and 'Save Lord Balaji Lands' — on Twitter.

"We oppose the decision of TTD to sell lands donated to lord Venkateswara by devotees. This is one decision that the Jagan government must reverse," demanded Rajya Sabha member GVL Narasimha Rao on Twitter.

"This decision is a betrayal of the trust of crores of Hindu devotees. The BJP is against it," BJP's Andhra Pradesh co-in-charge Sunil Deodhar said.

Dubbing it an “insult to Hindu sentiments”, BJP state president Kanna Lakshminarayana said, "Where do you have the right to sell TTD's assets? This is a conspiracy to undermine Hindutva."

The state unit of the BJP has also called for a protest across Andhra Pradesh on May 26, against the decision of the TTD

In a statement, Pawan Kalyan said, "Land, no matter how small, is still a valuable and tangible asset that grows in value with time. Land can never be useless. There are always ways to make use of it. The government's responsibility is to safeguard lands — not dispose of or destroy them. A government cannot hurt the belief and faith of millions of devotees. Devotion cannot be sold."

TTD Chairman defends move

Defending its decision, TTD pointed out a precedent, that between 1974 and 2014, a total of 129 such properties were auctioned.

The trust also pointed out that the properties presently in question included tiny house plots varying between 1 cent and 5 cent besides farmlands ranging between 10 cents and below one acre, which were 'non-maintainable and non-revenue generating properties’.

According to TTD chairman YV Subba Reddy, the decision was made after taking a host of aspects into account. "These properties were given by devotees, which they bought with their hard-earned money. If we do not act on these properties, it will be under the threat of encroachment soon," he told TNM.

He further explained that most of these properties are in remote villages in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Telangana. “It is difficult to build something over two or three cents and keep a security guard there. If it is encroached upon, won't that interest of the devotees be hurt then? We have to safeguard that as well," he added.

Subba Reddy also clarified that the present board of the TTD had simply ratified a proposal made during the tenure of the previous board, that is, when the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), led by N Chandrababu Naidu, was in power.

In its statement, the TTD said that a sub-committee was formed for identification of such properties as per a resolution dated July 28, 2015, following which a report was submitted. In a resolution dated January 30, 2016, the board resolved to dispose of these 50 properties by public auction.

"The earlier board has identified all these properties. It was headed by people from the then TDP government and it had many BJP members as well. They were the ones who recommended it. In due process, it came in front of the present board members and we have ratified it in our meeting," Subba Reddy clarified.

He also pointed out that the government of Andhra Pradesh is no way connected with the disposal of immovable properties of TTD under public auction. “It is not correct to link up the decisions of the TTD board with the government," TTD said its statement.

Regarding the BJP's allegations, he said, "Our interest is to protect the properties of TTD and also protect Hinduism. Keeping all this in mind, we have to respect the sentiments behind the donations of the devotees as well. We have to understand what's between the lines."

He also denied the allegation that the auction was being conducted as the TTD was facing a cash crunch to pay its employees. "We will hardly get a few crore rupees if we auction all these properties, compared to the Rs 110 crore we need to pay monthly salaries to our employees and maintain our temples. Only the property in Rishikesh is more valuable than the other properties but since it has been illegally occupied, we will take a decision on how to proceed on that soon."

Subba Reddy also added that the properties will not be auctioned immediately. “There are some procedures before the auction. The process will take four to six months," he said, adding that TTD was open to receiving constructive suggestions from devotees.

"If there is a good alternative to safeguard these properties, we don't mind working it out," he said.

Read: TTD faces cash crunch to pay salaries: Why richest temple is reluctant to use reserves

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