In a shocking revelation, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) officials stated that 743 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 till Sunday. The Tirumala Venkateswara temple, which was closed for pilgrims since 20 March due to Covid-19 lockdown, was reopened from 11 June for darshans in limited numbers. Though the TTD officials claim that no devotee was infected, many of the temple staff, including several archakas (priests) have tested positive.
On Sunday, TTD executive officer Anil Kumar Singhal stated that “so far 743 employees of TTD have tested positive. 402 of them have already recovered and joined their duties back while 338 are undergoing treatment in the TTD rest houses turned Covid-19 centres at Srinivasam, Vishnunivasam and Madhavam,”. Singhal interacted with devotees as part of the monthly Dial-your-EO programme conducted in TTD’s administrative building in Tirupati.
"Only three of our employees succumbed to the dreadful virus. We are providing the best possible arrangements and treatment to our employees. I thank all our employees for offering extraordinary services to the visiting pilgrims (in such testing times)", the EO said. One of the three dead is a 48-year-old priest who was employed at the Sri Govindaraja Swamy temple in Tirupati but was on deputation to Tirumala where he was performing rituals.
The TTD is facing criticism for keeping the temple open for darshans even as many TTD employees are testing positive and Tirupati, the gateway to Tirumala, becoming a Covid-19 hotspot with thousands of cases. Singhal disapproved of such remarks and suggested that the temple would remain open for the public. "Initially, everyone appreciated TTD’s move reopening darshans. But as soon as cases started increasing in Tirupati, the blame was thrown upon us by a section of media, social media and by some vested persons who state that we have resumed darshans to make money whereas, we are spending more on Covid-19 measures. Our only intention is to satisfy the devotees with hassle-free darshans, strictly following the Covid-19 guidelines,” the EO stated.
Singhal also clarified that given the live telecast of Srivari Nitya Kalyanotsavam in Tirumala between 12 noon and 1 pm, the Sri Venkateswara Bhakti Channel could not relay the Bhoomi puja of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on 5 August 5. Andhra Pradesh BJP leaders had raised this issue. "Unfortunately, some people are intentionally trying to damage TTD’s image. TTD is committed to the protection and promotion of Hindu Sanatana Dharma only," he said.