Finding fault with the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) for keeping the Tirumala temple open to devotees despite 140 employees testing positive for coronavirus, police on Saturday suggested discontinuation of darshan, in the interest of public health.
"In the interest of public health safety, the 'darshan' needs to be closed as it doesn't come under the emergency department (activities)," a senior police official wrote to TTD, which manages the affairs of the world's richest temple atop Tirumala hill.
TTD Trust Board Chairman YV Subba Reddy said that a decision on whether to continue with 'darshan' or not would be taken soon by the body.
In his note sent to the TTD, the Tirumala Additional Superintendent of Police (Law and Order) suggested that if discontinuation of darshan was not possible, the pilgrims from containment zones should not be allowed in, or at least the pilgrims from the worst-affected states must be avoided.
The ASP also suggested various other strict measures, including restricting the number of pilgrims per hour to 250.
The note was sent amid growing demands for closure of the temple in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases among TTD employees, including priests.
"To sum up, knowing the fact that a large number of corona positive cases have been reported in employees working in Tirumala, the TTD authorities are continuously permitting 'darshan' for 12,000 pilgrims per day, saying that not a single pilgrim has reported positive. If that's the case, they are forgetting the transmission of virus from the employees to the innocent pilgrims coming for 'darshan'," the officer wrote.
"Further, the spread of the virus started only due to the reopening of the temple on June 8, 2020 but not otherwise, and employees working in Tirumala are the worst- affected. It can incur a huge loss if a decision is not taken immediately," he added.
Only two days ago, Subba Reddy had ruled out closing the temple to devotees. He had also found fault with the temple's honorary chief priest A V Ramana Dikshitulu for allegedly voicing concern over the temple remaining open despite growing number of COVID-19 cases among priests.
The chief priest had even warned of a ‘disaster’. He tweeted that darshan should be stopped for devotees for a few weeks.
His latest tweet came after a priest who heads the conduct of 'Kainkarya' rituals at the temple tested positive. The priest was shifted to Apollo Hospital in Chennai.
Subba Reddy said the priest's condition is stable.
The TTD Chairman had earlier said that since the reopening of the temple for darshan, 140 TTD employees have tested positive, including 14 priests.
The TTD head said that around 60 of them are security personnel drawn from Andhra Pradesh Special Police battalion. Those infected also include 16 employees who prepare the laddu ‘prasadam' at the temple.
Subba Reddy said 70 of the affected employees have already recovered, with some of them even resuming duties.
He claimed that none of the pilgrims visiting the temple was infected by the virus.
Tirumala temple had reopened for pilgrims on June 8 after remaining closed for 80 days due to COVID-19 lockdown.
Initially, the temple was allowing only 6,000 pilgrims per day with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocol. The number of pilgrims was later doubled.