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Home > South Asia Labour Activists Library > India: Tirupati’s labour rules aren’t divine | Brinda Karat

India: Tirupati’s labour rules aren’t divine | Brinda Karat

16 November 2014

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The Times of India, November 16, 2014

If you have been to Tirupati, you would have been amazed at the tremendous feat of management of the endless stream of pilgrims. There is a daily flow of at least 40,000 pilgrims and on auspicious days, this number reaches a lakh or more.

The services offered to pilgrims are also quite unique. On any given day the eight large dining halls serve 40,000 free meals. There are around 600 barbers who also offer not only free services, but also a free blade per pilgrim, to allow them to keep their pledge of tonsuring their heads for Lord Venkateswara.

About 20,000 pilgrims avail of these services every day. There are 7,000 rooms available for residential purposes on payment. It is the only temple in the world that holds a geographical tag for its prasad -the famous laddoo.

The entire area is clean and orderly in spite of the large crowds.

Something to be proud of. Except that behind the order is utter disorder.

This temple is the richest in the country, a conservative estimate puts the annual revenue at Rs 2,500 crore. This is excluding its other huge assets. Despite this, the labour practices in Tirupati are grossly unfair. Of the 20,000 employees, 12,000 are on a contract basis even though they perform jobs of a permanent nature.Most of them have been working for the temple for 10 years.

Look at the plight of those making the famous laddoos. Only Vaishnava Brahmins are allowed to actually make the laddoos. They have a team of assistants who have to be Brahmins, though not necessarily Vaishnavas. It is said that an IAS officer, earlier in charge, who today holds an important position in the AP administration, actually removed 50 or so non-Vaishnava Brahmins who were making the prasad.

Why should laddoo makers have to belong to any particular caste? Aren’t casteist practices prohibited by law? All told, there are 420 laddoo makers and their assistants who together make 1.25 lakh laddoos a day. The larger laddoo should weigh 750 gm while the smaller one should weigh 75 gm. Such is the skill that without any weighing machine the laddoo makers get the weight dead right each time.

In 1987, when a new system was set in place, there was a struggle by the laddoo makers to be absorbed as permanent employees and some went to court. Ten years later, the court ruled in favour of their regularization but the verdict was not implemented. It took another ten years for the employees to be regularized. But only those who were part of the initial case got the benefits. So at present, there are only 100 regular employees earning a monthly salary of Rs 35,000 and benefits for laddoo-making while the majority gets just Rs 15,000 a month with negligible benefits for the same job. They are not entitled to any paid leave and if they take leave for an emergency their salaries are cut.

Things are worse in other departments. The worst is the plight of the 4,000 cleaners and sanitation workers.Most of them are dalits. Any time of the day or night you will see women and men in uniforms with brooms, cleaning up after the pilgrims have left, making sure the toilets are clean. What are they paid? Less than Rs 6,500 a month. They have no benefits, no ESI, no provident fund and not even a weekly off. This virtual slave labour is employed by Sulabh International which has got one of the contracts for cleaning. The value of the contract is a closely guarded secret as RTI applications on the issue have been blocked. In any case, according to the law, it is the temple management as the principal employer that is responsible for the conditions of the workers. Incidentally, it is this clause of the responsibility of the principal employer that the Central Government wants to eliminate as has been done by the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan.

The servers and cleaners in canteens serving free food face similiar discrimination though they get some benefits. While 50 regular employees earn around Rs 25,000 a month, the rest of the 600 workers on contract do the same work for less than one-third the amount.

And the unkindest cut of all is that while regular employees can have free darshan of the Lord, contract employees have to pay for it.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Trust consisting of a chairman and 14 members, appointed by the Andhra Pradesh government along with a full secretariat headed by an IAS officer, are responsible for the management of the temple. The wealth of the temple is continuously augmented by generous donations. Even the hair devotees’ sacrifice which is sold to wig-makers, brings in a revenue of at least Rs 200 crore a year.

Should not the management and the state government ensure that the army of workers who make the Tirupati experience unique be treated with respect and dignity?

(The writer is member, politbureau CPM and former member Rajya Sabha.)

P.S.

The above article from The Times of India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use