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Call to stop commercial activities at Sabarimala

By Our Staff Reporter

PATHANAMTHITTA, OCT. 25. With hardly three weeks left for the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, various commercial groups are making hectic preparations to set up shops and stalls at Pampa and the Sannidhanam.

The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) is to complete auctioning of space for commercial outlets like hotels and tea stalls in the forest land in its control at Pampa, the Sannidhanam and along the trekking path in the next two days.

Meanwhile, various Hindu organisations and the managing committee of the Pandalam Palace, believed to be the heir of the Lord Ayyappa Temple, have opposed any sort of commercial activity at Sabarimala.

The Pandalam Palace managing committee president, P. Ramavarma Raja, has told The Hindu that the Palace has been demanding that the Government and the TDB take effective steps to stop all sorts of commercial activities at Sabarimala for the past nine years. The fleecing of Ayyappa devotees coming from different parts of the country is a major complaint during every pilgrim season. The authorities have often been found to be indifferent towards the fleecing.

Every year, the Government promises to take `stern and strong' measures to ensure the sale of quality food items at reasonable prices. But there have been several complaints about the sale of even biscuits and drinking water at prices far above the retail price printed on the packed items, he said.

Call for free food

According to Mr Raja, it is high time the TDB stopped auctioning of space for hotels and shops at Sabarimala and make arrangements to supply quality food to the pilgrims free of cost or at a subsidised price with the help of Hindu charitable organisations. Many such organisations and ashrams have expressed their willingness to supply free food. But the TDB has been indifferent to the idea.

The Hindu Aikyavedi State general secretary, Kummanam Rajashekharan, has said that his organisation and the SASTA Trust will be happy to supply free food to the Ayyappa devotees. It is high time the TDB either took the lead to supply free food to the pilgrims or permitted Hindu organisations to carry out the task for preserving the sanctity and spirit of Sabarimala pilgrimage.

He said the additional space left with the ban on commercial outlets at Pampa and Sabarimala could be effectively utilised for providing more basic facilities for pilgrims.

The TDB had sanctioned 24 hotels and tea-coffee shops along Chalakkayam-Pampa Road, 30 at Pampa Manalpuram, 50 along the Pampa-Sannidhanam trekking path, 25 at the Sannidhanam, besides eight permanent hotels at the Sannidhanam, during last year. According to TDB sources, the Board got a revenue of Rs.2.5 crores by way of auctioning the space for running these commercial outlets.

Mr. Rajashekharan said the `annadanam' (free meals) scheme launched by the TDB at Pampa and the Sannidhanam for a limited number of people was a success. However, there were large-scale complaints against its conduct and the quality of food.

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