Taking into consideration the smooth start to the annual pilgrimage season at Sabarimala, authorities may soon approve an upward revision in the daily number of pilgrims allowed to the Ayyappa temple.
Official sources said the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) had forwarded a recommendation to this effect to the government. A final decision, expected within a couple of weeks, would have to come as a collective decision of the agencies involved.
Sagging TDB finances
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the daily number of pilgrims to the temple has been fixed at 1,000 on weekdays and 2,000 on holidays. The recommendation to raise the daily limit also stems from the sagging finances of the TDB, which has been in a crisis following the locking down of temples.
“Right from the testing centres at Nilackal to the sanitisation system at the Sannidhanam, elaborate arrangements are in place to prevent a potential surge in COVID-19,” pointed out an official.
The Sabarimala temple used to receive between 80,000 to a lakh pilgrims a day during the season and it clocked a revenue of ₹263 crore during the last pilgrim season alone. But with the restrictions in place, traders have refused to participate in the tendering of shops while the revenue through sale of offerings and collection boxes too is slated to record a sharp drop this time.
Safety of pilgrims
Confirming the proposal to raise the number of pilgrims, TDB president N. Vasu said the decision of the Health and Police departments was crucial. “We definitely expect an increase in the daily ceiling but for the time being, the safety of pilgrims is our priority,” he said.
Regarding the tendering of shops, Mr. Vasu said most of the stalls had been auctioned out, though at a much lesser price. “We had no other option as it is the responsibility of the TDB to ensure necessary facilities, including the provision of food. These shops will be in full swing within the next couple of days,” he added.