Thursday, June 29, 2006


4. How India's Biggest Temples Spent Their Money

DELHI, INDIA, June 23, 2006: Critics may carp, but that doesn't deter the believers, who simply shrug off charges that religious shrines have turned into money-making enterprises. Instead, they point to the good work that is being done by many charitable institutions. "Sri Venkateswara temple at Tirupati is governed by the AP Hindu Religion and Charitable Institution Act, which lays out how the money is to be spent. There is an audit every year. The trust which runs the temple is accountable for every penny. So where does the question arise of the trustees pocketing the money?" asks Anita Shah Akella, financial advisor and chief accounts officer, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD). Agrees Sanjay Madhukar Bhagwat, CEO, Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple Trust, Mumbai, "All major temples are governed by Acts of the particular state. There is no question of funds being misused. Also, devotees can ask us to show details of our expenditure under Right to Information Act." The Siddhivinayak temple spends 90% of its annual income of Rs 15 crore (US$3.4 million) on providing medical treatment for poor patients, running schools and helping NGOs financially.

The Tirupati temple's income this year is estimated at Rs 800 crore ($182 million). And only 20% of that will be used for salaries and upkeep of the temple; the rest will be spent on charities. Schools, leprosy homes, orphanages and free treatment at Balaji Institute of Surgery, Research and Rehabilitation of the Disabled and Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Science are some examples of philanthropy at Tirupati. At Vaishno Devi, 60% of the annual revenue is spent on the upkeep of facilities like roads, sanitation, electricity etc, for pilgrims, while 40% is reserved for future projects. "We are planning a cancer hospital in Katra," says Arun Kumar, CEO, Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

A survey conducted by National Council of Applied Economic Research on tourism a few years back, highlighted the increase in the number of religious tourists. This means there is more money pouring into the coffers of shrines. Tirupati is the richest temple with an average Rs 1,000 crore ($227 million) of annual revenue, followed by Vaishno Devi with Rs 750 crore ($170 million). Another survey in 2002 by Sampradan-Indian Centre for Philanthropy, reported 87% of the people d onated money to religious organizations, amounting to Rs 475 crore ($108 million).


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