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Priests in AP want pay hike, go on strike
Demand salaries on par with state government employees
Suresh Dharur/TNS

Hyderabad, October 31
The deities in Andhra Pradesh are being deprived of their daily rituals after priests at several temples across the state went on an indefinite strike demanding hike in wages on par with the state government employees.

The devotees, who thronged popular shrines, had to leave disappointed without performing “Arjita Sevas” (paid rituals) as priests and other temple staff struck work in support of their charter of demands. Apart from the daily rituals, the supply of free food, sale of “prasadam” and booking of accommodation were also affected due to the stir.

The country’s richest shrine at Tirumala, however, has not been affected by the stir as it is managed by an autonomous board.

The impact was mainly felt at eight other big temples which witness a major rush of devotees during the festival season. The striking priests are demanding salaries on par with the state government employees as per recommendations of the Pay Revision Commission.

There are over 37,000 temples in the state, employing nearly 70,000 priests. There is a huge disparity in their salaries. Depending on the annual income of the temple, through “hundi” collections and paid rituals, the priests are paid a consolidated monthly remuneration, ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 4000.

There are 19 major temples which make an annual income of more than Rs 10 crore, while 1,130 temples get an income of up to Rs 25 lakh. The pay commission scales are made partially applicable to the priests of these temples, while their counterparts who manage smaller shrines are paid consolidated salaries.

“It is the staff of the small temples who suffer the most. As over 32,000 temples in the state earn less than Rs 2 lakh per year, the “archakas” of these shrines get a paltry sum from the government,” secretary of AP Archaka Samakhya KVSRN Acharyulu told The Tribune.

Though the endowments department had promised to pay a fixed monthly remuneration of Rs 5,000 for priests in rural temples and Rs 6,000 for their urban counterparts, there had been no action so far, he said.

“Though the Supreme Court had directed the state government in 1997 to pay salaries to temple staff on par with those of the government employees, the government has failed to do so,” said president of the association Kodandarama Sharma.

The government had also failed to implement its order, issued two years ago, envisaging contributions by big temples towards welfare fund for priests, association members pointed out.

In the case of imams of mosques, the Wakf Board controls a few dozen mosques in the state and the salaries of the staff are paid from out of the Wakf funds. But a majority of mosques in Andhra are independent and controlled by local mosque committees. Salaries of imams and other staff are met through donations collected from local Muslims.

While empathising with the plight of priests, Endowments Minister G Venkat Reddy assured that a decision on pay hike would be taken after receiving the report of the Justice Venkatrami Reddy Commission, set up to examine their demands. “We have no objection to hiking salaries if the temples have sufficient revenues,” Reddy said. 





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