SABARIMALA: Inadequate free food facilities coupled with wrong attitude of the Travancore Devaswom Board authorities towards voluntary agencies which distribute free food at Sabarimala are causing hardships to the pilgrims. As the free food distribution centres do not have enough facilities to meet the increasing demand, the pilgrims are forced to depend the hotels which levy exorbitant rates.
Though the TDB authorities had promised to provide free food for all the devotees, it is facing difficulty to give food to even one lakh persons, which amounts to only 1/8th of the daily influx of pilgrims.
TDB free food centre at Malikappuram has been providing food to 15,000 persons and the Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam to 30,000 pilgrims every day. Apart from this, the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham and Sree Bhoothanathan Trust have also been giving free food to 15,000 and 10,000 pilgrims respectively. The remaining pilgrims are forced to fall prey to the unscrupulous hoteliers at Sannidhanam.
The saddest part of the free food sector is the attitude of the TDB toward the voluntary agencies, to which notices were issued asking to pay penalty worth about `10 lakh for undertaking free food distribution at Sabarimala. Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam, the largest distributor of free food at Sannidanam and an Andhra Pradesh-based agency, which has been in the free food service for the last four decades, are among the agencies which received the notice. Meanwhile, the TDB has failed to comply with the Kerala High Court order to withdraw the stop-memo issued the Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam.
TDB’s vested interests and lack of coordination with Forest Department stalled the construction of the two free food distribution centres near Malikappuram, being built on sponsorship basis. Even one-and-a-half years after commencement, even work on the ground floor of any of the building complexes have been completed.