SABARIMALA:Without a doubt, the Sabarimala pilgrimage season sees one of the highest footfalls - stretching to lakhs - of devotees every year.But the rush also makes many devotees vulnerable to fleecing by private hoteliers who charge exorbitant prices on food items. Though several pilgrims do get free food from the facility of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) set up at Malikappuram, it is easy for the latter to get bogged down by the rush of five to six lakh devotees, what with its ability to provide food to around one lakh devotees per day. This forces pilgrims to turn to private hotels, whose owners pay `1 crore-`1.5 crore a year to TDB as contract money to run the food facility.
“In such a scenario of devotees getting duped by hotels, it is important voluntary organisations like the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham (ABASS) be permitted to relaunch the free food distribution at Sannidhanam during the pilgrimage season,” said ABASS national vice-president D Vijayakumar, who urged the TDB to permit relaunch of the programme. “ABASS has been providing free food to pilgrims since five decades, barring the last pilgrimage season. The TDB should allow us to relaunch the programme taking into consideration that a majority of the visiting pilgrims belong to BPL category,” he said.
Besides the ABASS, the Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam and Sree Bhhothanathan Trust also provide free food to pilgrims.“ABASS distributes free food to the pilgrims by collecting rice, pulses and vegetables from its branches across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala,” Vijayakumar said. “To ensure transparency in our functioning, ABASS will readily share the details of donors who collect the ingredients to prepare and supply the free food to pilgrims.
Calm mind, dry pockets
Close to 7 lakh devotees visit Sannidhanam during the pilgrimage season.
In the absence of free food, many devotees end up paying huge amounts as bill to hoteliers.