Sabarimala Pilgrims Face Mandatory Insurance Fee Amid Controversy

To see Ayyappan, you now have to pay ten rupees for insurance; compulsory collection of money in the name of a virtual queue at Sabarimala; money extortion even by expelling the Ayyappa Seva Sangh.

Ayyappa Seva Sangham has been removed from Sabarimala. Following this, the Travancore Devaswom Board has implemented steps to provide insurance for those arriving through the virtual queue for darshan. The decision is to charge ten rupees during booking for the next pilgrimage. This move is being made without even determining the insurance company. The fact is that insurance companies will gain millions in profit through this scheme. Additionally, there is a move within the Devaswom Board to appoint 5,000 people through a private agency.

Representatives of the Ayyappa Seva Sangham used to carry out cleaning activities at Sabarimala. This voluntary work was done without receiving any salary from the Devaswom Board. They have now been ousted. Instead, the Devaswom Board will appoint 5,000 people on a daily wage basis. A private agency will be entrusted with this task. As a result, even if one person is paid a thousand rupees per day, it will cost 5 million rupees for 5,000 people. During the Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season, this will lead to a significant financial loss for the Devaswom Board.

When the temple opens for the monthly pooja, the board has decided to limit the maximum number of devotees entering through the virtual queue to 50,000. Since the temple opens for the monthly pooja on the last day of the Malayalam month in the evening, only 25,000 devotees will be allowed that day. Insurance will be provided for those coming through the virtual queue for darshan. A charge of ten rupees will be collected at the time of booking for the next pilgrimage. Making the virtual queue mandatory for the monthly pooja is to collect this ten-rupee fee.

The fact is that even if those who book through the virtual queue do not show up for darshan, they will still have to pay the insurance amount. Therefore, it will become an enforced fee under the guise of insurance. While there is an option to choose insurance when booking tickets on the railway, it is mandatory for darshan at Sabarimala. There are allegations of corruption behind this.

Earlier, it was decided that only 80,000 people would be allowed per day during the pilgrimage season starting in November. Subsequently, the number of devotees for the monthly pooja was also limited. The Devaswom Board states that usually, the number of devotees during the monthly pooja is below this limit. However, the restriction was set to avoid lapses in arrangements. These decisions were made at a meeting convened to discuss preparations for the next pilgrimage.

The current insurance scheme offers minimal benefits. Booking through the virtual queue is not mandatory for it. Expression of interest will be invited from companies to expand the insurance. Women and children will be allowed through separate barricades, and the first queue at the appam and aravana prasadam counters will be reserved for women and differently-abled individuals. A meeting of sponsors is scheduled for early June at Pamba.

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